A phosphatase is an enzyme that removes a phosphate group from its substrate by hydrolysing phosphoric acid monoesters into a phosphate ion and a molecule with a free hydroxyl group (see dephosphorylation). This action is directly opposite to that of phosphorylases and kinases, which attach phosphate groups to their substrates by using energetic molecules like ATP. A common phosphatase in many organisms is alkaline phosphatase.
Protein phosphorylation is the most common and important form of reversible protein posttranslational modification (PTM), with up to 30% of all proteins being phosphorylated at any given time. Protein kinases (PKs) are the effectors of phosphorylation and catalyse the transfer of a γ-phosphate from ATP to specific amino acids on proteins. Several hundred PKs exist in mammals and are classified into distinct super-families. Proteins are phosphorylated predominantly on Ser, Thr and Tyr residues, which account for 86, 12 and 2% respectively of the phosphoproteome, at least in mammals. In contrast, protein phosphatases (PPs) are the primary effectors of dephosphorylation and can be grouped into three main classes based on sequence, structure and catalytic function. The largest class of PPs is the phosphoprotein phosphatase (PPP) family comprising PP1, PP2A, PP2B, PP4, PP5, PP6 and PP7, and the protein phosphatase Mg2+- or Mn2+-dependent (PPM) family, composed primarily of PP2C. The protein Tyr phosphatase (PTP) super-family forms the second group, and the aspartate-based protein phosphatases the third.
Cysteine-dependent phosphatases (CDPs) catalyse the hydrolysis of a phosphoester bond via a phospho-cysteine intermediate.
Mechanism of Tyrosine dephosphorylation by a CDP
The free cysteine nucleophile forms a bond with the phosphorus atom of the phosphate moiety, and the P-O bond linking the phosphate group to the tyrosine is protonated, either by a suitably positioned acidic amino acid residue (Asp in the diagram below) or a water molecule. The phospho-cysteine intermediate is then hydrolysed by another water molecule, thus regenerating the active site for another dephosphorylation reaction.
Metallo-phosphatases (e.g. PP2C) co-ordinate 2 catalytically essential metal ions within their active site. There is currently some confusion of the identity of these metal ions, as successive attempts to identify them yield different answers. There is currently evidence that these metals could be Magnesium, Manganese, Iron, Zinc, or any combination thereof. It is thought that a hydroxyl ion bridging the two metal ions takes part in nucleophilic attack on the phosphorus ion.
Phosphatases act in opposition to kinases/phosphorylases, which add phosphate groups to proteins. The addition of a phosphate group may activate or de-activate an enzyme (e.g., kinase signalling pathways) or enable a protein-protein interaction to occur (e.g., SH2 domains ); therefore phosphatases are integral to many signal transduction pathways. It should be noted that phosphate addition and removal do not necessarily correspond to enzyme activation or inhibition, and that several enzymes have separate phosphorylation sites for activating or inhibiting functional regulation. CDK, for example, can be either activated or deactivated depending on the specific amino acid residue being phosphorylated. Phosphates are important in signal transduction because they regulate the proteins to which they are attached. To reverse the regulatory effect, the phosphate is removed. This occurs on its own by hydrolysis, or is mediated by protein phosphatases.
Protein phosphorylation plays a crucial role in biological functions and controls nearly every cellular process, including metabolism, gene transcription and translation, cell-cycle progression, cytoskeletal rearrangement, protein-protein interactions, protein stability, cell movement, and apoptosis. These processes depend on the highly regulated and opposing actions of PKs and PPs, through changes in the phosphorylation of key proteins. Histone phosphorylation, along with methylation, ubiquitination, sumoylation and acetylation, also regulates access to DNA through chromatin reorganisation.
One of the major switches for neuronal activity is the activation of PKs and PPs by elevated intracellular calcium. The degree of activation of the various isoforms of PKs and PPs is controlled by their individual sensitivities to calcium. Furthermore, a wide range of specific inhibitors and targeting partners such as scaffolding, anchoring, and adaptor proteins also contribute to the control of PKs and PPs and recruit them into signalling complexes in neuronal cells. Such signalling complexes typically act to bring PKs and PPs in close proximity with target substrates and signalling molecules as well as enhance their selectivity by restricting accessibility to these substrate proteins. Phosphorylation events, therefore, are controlled not only by the balanced activity of PKs and PPs but also by their restricted localisation. Regulatory subunits and domains serve to restrict specific proteins to particular subcellular compartments and to modulate protein specificity. These regulators are essential for maintaining the coordinated action of signalling cascades, which in neuronal cells include short-term (synaptic) and long-term (nuclear) signalling. These functions are, in part, controlled by allosteric modification by secondary messengers and reversible protein phosphorylation.
It is thought that around 30% of known PPs are present in all tissues, with the rest showing some level of tissue restriction. While protein phosphorylation is a cell-wide regulatory mechanism, recent quantitative proteomics studies have shown that phosphorylation preferentially targets nuclear proteins. Many PPs that regulate nuclear events, are often enriched or exclusively present in the nucleus. In neuronal cells, PPs are present in multiple cellular compartments and play a critical role at both pre- and post-synapses, in the cytoplasm and in the nucleus where they regulate gene expression.