Catalyzing the covalent modification of aliphatic amino groups, such as the lysine (Lys) side chain, by nucleic acids has been challenging to achieve. Such catalysis will be valuable, for example, for the practical preparation of Lys-modified proteins. We previously reported the DNA-catalyzed modification of the tyrosine and serine hydroxy side chains, but Lys modification has been elusive. Herein, we show that increasing the reactivity of the electrophilic reaction partner by using 5-phosphorimidazolide (5-Imp) rather than 5-triphosphate (5-ppp) enables the DNA-catalyzed modification of Lys in a DNA-anchored peptide substrate. The DNA-catalyzed reaction of Lys with 5-Imp is observed in an architecture in which the nucleophile and electrophile are not preorganized. In contrast, previous efforts showed that catalysis was not observed when Lys and 5-ppp were used in a preorganized arrangement. Therefore, substrate reactivity is more important than preorganization in this context. These findings will assist ongoing efforts to identify DNA catalysts for reactions of protein substrates at lysine side chains.
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