From L-Dopa to Dihydroxyphenylacetaldehyde: A Toxic Biochemical Pathway Plays a Vital Physiological Function in Insects
One protein in Aedes aegypti, classified into the aromatic amino acid decarboxylase (AAAD) family based on extremely high sequence homology (∼70%) with dopa decarboxylase (Ddc), was biochemically investigated. Our data revealed that this predicted AAAD protein use L-dopa as a substrate, as does Ddc, but it catalyzes the production of 3,4-dihydroxylphenylacetaldehyde (DHPAA) directly from L-dopa and apparently has nothing to do with the production of any aromatic amine. The protein is therefore named DHPAA synthase. This subsequently led to the identification of the same enzyme in Drosophila melanogaster, Anopheles gambiae and Culex quinquefasciatus by an initial prediction of putative DHPAA synthase based on sequence homology and subsequent verification of DHPAA synthase identity through protein expression and activity assays. DHPAA is highly toxic because its aldehyde group readily reacts with the primary amino groups of proteins, leading to protein crosslinking and inactivation. It has previously been demonstrated by several research groups that Drosophila DHPAA synthase was expressed in tissues that produce cuticle materials and apparent defects in regions of colorless, flexible cuticular structures have been observed in its gene mutants. The presence of free amino groups in proteins, the high reactivity of DHPAA with the free amino groups, and the genetically ascertained function of the Drosophila DHPAA synthase in the formation of colorless, flexible cuticle, when taken together, suggest that mosquito and Drosophila DHPAA synthases are involved in the formation of flexible cuticle through their reactive DHPAA-mediated protein crosslinking reactions. Our data illustrate how a seemingly highly toxic pathway can serve for an important physiological function in insects.