In both clam oocytes and sea urchin eggs, fertilization triggers the synthesis of a set of proteins specified by stored maternal mRNAs. One of the most abundant of these (p41) has a molecular weight of 41,000. This paper describes the identification of p41 as the small subunit of ribonucleotide reductase, the enzyme that provides the precursors necessary for DNA synthesis. This identification is based mainly on the amino acid sequence deduced from cDNA clones corresponding to p41, which shows homology with a gene in Herpes Simplex virus that is thought to encode the small subunit of viral ribonucleotide reductase. Comparison with the B2 (small) subunit of Escherichia coli ribonucleotide reductase also shows striking homology in certain conserved regions of the molecule. However, our attention was originally drawn to protein p41 because it was specifically retained by an affinity column bearing the monoclonal antibody YL 1/2, which reacts with alpha-tubulin (Kilmartin, J. V., B. Wright, and C. Milstein, 1982, J. Cell Biol., 93:576-582). The finding that this antibody inhibits the activity of sea urchin embryo ribonucleotide reductase confirmed the identity of p41 as the small subunit. The unexpected binding of the small subunit of ribonucleotide reductase can be accounted for by its carboxy-terminal sequence, which matches the specificity requirements of YL 1/2 as determined by Wehland et al. (Wehland, J., H. C. Schroeder, and K. Weber, 1984, EMBO [Eur. Mol. Biol. Organ.] J., 3:1295-1300). Unlike the small subunit, there is no sign of synthesis of a corresponding large subunit of ribonucleotide reductase after fertilization. Since most enzymes of this type require two subunits for activity, we suspect that the unfertilized oocytes contain a stockpile of large subunits ready for combination with newly made small subunits. Thus, synthesis of the small subunit of ribonucleotide reductase represents a very clear example of the developmental regulation of enzyme activity by control of gene expression at the level of translation.

This content is only available as a PDF.