Ping Liu

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Irene T. Weber - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Chung-Dar Lu

Third Advisor

Dr. Robert W. Harrison

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Xiaodong Cheng


The crystal structures of two thermostable carboxylesterase Est30 and Est55 from Geobacillus stearothermophilus were determined to help understand their functions and applications in industry or medicine. The crystal structure of Est30 was determined at 1.63 Å resolution by the multiple anomalous dispersion method. The two-domain Est30 structure showed a large domain with a modified alpha/beta hydrolase core including a seven, rather than an eight-stranded beta sheet, and a smaller cap domain comprising three alpha helices. A 100 Da tetrahedral ligand, propyl acetate, was observed to be covalently bound to the side chain of Ser94 in the catalytic triad. This ligand complex represents the first tetrahedral intermediate in the reaction mechanism. Therefore, this Est30 crystal structure will help understand the mode of action of all enzymes in the serine hydrolase superfamily. Est55 is a bacterial homologue of the mammalian carboxylesterases involved in hydrolysis and detoxification of numerous peptides and drugs and in prodrug activation. Est55 crystals were grown at pH 6.2 and pH 6.8 and the structures were determined at resolutions of 2.0 and 1.58 Å respectively. Est55 folds into three domains, a catalytic domain, an α/β domain and a regulatory domain. This structure is in an inactive form; the side chain of His409, one of the catalytic triad residues, is pointing away from the active site. Moreover, the adjacent Cys408 is triply oxidized and lies in the oxyanion hole, which would block the entry of substrate to its binding site. This structure suggested a self-inactivation mechanism, however, Cys408 is not essential for enzyme activity. Mutation of Cys408 showed that hydrophobic side chains at this position were favorable, while polar serine was unfavorable for enzyme activity. Both Est30 and Est55 were shown to hydrolyze the prodrug CPT-11 into the active form SN-38. Therefore, Est30 and Est55 are potential candidates for use with irinotecan in cancer therapy. The catalytic efficiency (kcat/Km) of Est30 is about 10-fold lower than that of Est55. The effects of the Cys408 substitutions on Est55 activity differed for the two substrates, p-NP butyrate and CPT-11. Mutant C408V may provide a more stable form of Est55.


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