We have advanced a mechanism for nitrogenase catalysis that rests on the identification of a low-spin EPR signal (S = 1/2) trapped during turnover of a MoFe protein as the E4 state, which has accumulated four reducing equivalents as two [Fe-H-Fe] bridging hydrides. Because electrons are delivered to the MoFe protein one at a time, with the rate-limiting step being the off-rate of oxidized Fe protein, it is difficult to directly control, or know, the degree of reduction, n, of a trapped intermediate, denoted En, n = 1-8. To overcome this previously intractable problem, we introduced a quench-cryoannealing relaxation protocol for determining n of an EPR-active trapped En turnover state. The trapped hydride state was allowed to relax to the resting E0 state in frozen medium, which prevents additional accumulation of reducing equivalents; binding of reduced Fe protein and release of oxidized protein from the MoFe protein both are abolished in a frozen solid. Relaxation of En was monitored by periodic EPR analysis at cryogenic temperature. The protocol rests on the hypothesis that an intermediate trapped in the frozen solid can relax toward the resting state only by the release of a stable reduction product from FeMo-co. In turnover under Ar, the only product that can be released is H2, which carries two reducing equivalents. This hypothesis implicitly predicts that states that have accumulated an odd number of electrons/protons (n = 1, 3) during turnover under Ar cannot relax to E0: E3 can relax to E1, but E1 cannot relax to E0 in the frozen state. The present experiments confirm this prediction and, thus, the quench-cryoannealing protocol and our assignment of E4, the foundation of the proposed mechanism for nitrogenase catalysis. This study further gives insights into the identity of the En intermediates with high-spin EPR signals, 1b and 1c, trapped under high electron flux.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
- Inorganic Chemistry