Arylamine N-acetyltransferases (NATs) are defined as xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes, adding an acetyl group from acetyl coenzyme A (CoA) to arylamines and arylhydrazines. NATs are found in organisms from bacteria and fungi to vertebrates. Several isoenzymes, often polymorphic, may be present in one organism. There are two functional polymorphic NATs in humans and polymorphisms in NAT2 underpinned pharmacogenetics as a discipline. NAT enzymes have had a role in important metabolic concepts: the identification of acetyl-CoA and endogenous metabolic roles in bacteria and in eukaryotic folate metabolism. In fungi, NAT is linked to formation of unique metabolites. A broad and exciting canvas of investigations has emerged over the past five years from fundamental studies on NAT enzymes. The role of human NAT1 in breast cancer where it is a biomarker and possible therapeutic target may also underlie NAT's early appearance during mammalian fetal development. Studies of NAT in Mycobacterium tuberculosis have identified potential therapeutic targets for tuberculosis whilst the role of NATs in fungi opens up potential toxicological intervention in agriculture. These developments are possible through the combination of genomics, enzymology and structural data. Strong binding of CoA to Bacillis anthracis NAT may point to divergent roles of NATs amongst organisms as does differential control of mammalian NAT gene expression. The powerful combination of phenotypic investigation following genetic manipulation of NAT genes from mice to mycobacteria has been coupled with generation of isoenzyme-specific inhibitors. This battery of molecular and systems biology approaches heralds a new era for NAT research in pharmacology and toxicology.
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