Evidence is presented that the editing mechanisms of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases operate by two alternative pathways: pre-transfer, by hydrolysis of the non-cognate aminoacyl adenylate; post-transfer, by hydrolysis of the mischarged tRNA. The methionyl-tRNA synthetases from Escherichia coli and Bacillus stearothermophilus and isoleucyl-tRNA synthetase from E. coli, for example, are shown to reject misactivated homocysteine rapidly by the pretransfer route. A novel feature of this reaction is that homocysteine thiolactone is formed by the facile cyclisation of the homocysteinyl adenylate. Valyl-tRNA synthetases, on the other hand, reject the more readily activated non-cognate amino acids by primarily the post-transfer route. The features governing the choice of pathway are discussed.
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