Nitrogenase catalyzes the sequential addition of six electrons and six protons to a N2 that is bound to the active site metal cluster FeMo-cofactor, yielding two ammonia molecules. The nature of the intermediates bound to FeMo-cofactor along this reduction pathway remains unknown, although it has been suggested that there are intermediates at the level of reduction of diazene (HN=NH, also called diimide) and hydrazine (H2N-NH 2). Through in situ generation of diazene during nitrogenase turnover, we show that diazene is a substrate for the wild-type nitrogenase and is reduced to NH3. Diazene reduction, like N2 reduction, is inhibited by H2. This contrasts with the absence of H2 inhibition when nitrogenase reduces hydrazine. These results support the existence of an intermediate early in the N2 reduction pathway at the level of reduction of diazene. Freeze-quenching a MoFe protein variant with α-195His substituted by Gln and α-70Val substituted by Ala during steady-state turnover with diazene resulted in conversion of the S = 3/2 resting state FeMo-cofactor to a novel S = 1/2 state with g1 = 2.09, g2 = 2.01, and g3 ∼ 1.98. 15N- and 1H-ENDOR establish that this state consists of a diazene-derived [-NHx] moiety bound to FeMo-cofactor. This moiety is indistinguishable from the hydrazine-derived [-NHx] moiety bound to FeMo-cofactor when the same MoFe protein is trapped during turnover with hydrazine. These observations suggest that diazene joins the normal N 2-reduction pathway, and that the diazene- and hydrazine-trapped turnover states represent the same intermediate in the normal reduction of N2 by nitrogenase. Implications of these findings for the mechanism of N2 reduction by nitrogenase are discussed.
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