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RipA is a key cysteine protease of Mycobacterium tuberculosis as it is responsible for bacterial daughter-cell separation. Although it is an important target for antimicrobial development, its mechanism of action and its interaction pattern with its substrate are hitherto unknown. By combining crystallo­graphic and mutational studies with functional assays and molecular modelling, it is shown that the catalytic activity of the enzyme relies on a Cys–His–Glu triad and the impact of the mutation of each residue of the triad on the structure and function of RipA is analysed. Unexpectedly, the crystallo­graphic analyses reveal that mutation of the glutamic acid to alanine results in inversion of the configuration of the catalytic cysteine. The consequent burial of the catalytic cysteine side chain explains the enzyme inactivation upon mutation. These data point to a novel role of the acidic residue often present in the triad of cysteine proteases as a supervisor of cysteine configuration through preservation of the local structural integrity.

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PDB references: RipA, C383A mutant, 4q4g; E444A mutant, 4q4t; H432A mutant, 4q4n

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