Interaction of acetylene and cyanide with the resting state of nitrogenase α-96-substituted MoFe proteins

P. M.C. Benton, S. M. Mayer, J. Shao, B. M. Hoffman, D. R. Dean, L. C. Seefeldt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The nitrogenase MoFe protein contains the active site metallocluster called FeMo-cofactor [7Fe-9S-Mo-homocitrate] that exhibits an S = 3/2 EPR signal in the resting state. No interaction with FeMo-cofactor is detected when either substrates or inhibitors are incubated with MoFe protein in the resting state. Rather, the detection of such interactions requires the incubation of the MoFe protein together with its obligate electron donor, called the Fe protein, and MgATP under turnover conditions. This indicates that a more reduced state of the MoFe protein is required to accommodate substrate or inhibitor interaction. In the present work, substitution of an arginine residue (α-96Arg) located next to the active site FeMo-cofactor in the MoFe protein by leucine, glutamine, alanine, or histidine is found to result in MoFe proteins that can interact with acetylene or cyanide in the as-isolated, resting state without the need for the Fe protein, or MgATP. The dithionite-reduced, resting states of the α-96Leu-, α-96Gln-, α-96Ala-, or α-96His-substituted MoFe proteins show an S = 3/2 EPR signal (g = 4.26, 3.67, 2.00) similar to that assigned to FeMo-cofactor in the wild-type MoFe protein. However, in contrast to the wild-type MoFe protein, the α-96-substituted MoFe proteins all exhibit changes in their EPR spectra upon incubation with acetylene or cyanide. The α-96Leu-substituted MoFe protein was representative of the other α-96-substituted MoFe proteins examined. The incubation of acetylene with the α-96Leu MoFe protein decreased the intensity of the normal FeMo-cofactor signal with the appearance of a new EPR signal having inflections at g = 4.50 and 3.50. Incubation of cyanide with the α-96Leu MoFe protein also decreased the FeMo-cofactor EPR signal with concomitant appearance of a new EPR signal having an inflection at g = 4.06. The acetyleneand cyanide-dependent EPR signals observed for the α-96Leu-substituted MoFe protein were found to follow Curie law 1/T dependence, consistent with a ground-state transition as observed for FeMo-cofactor. The microwave power dependence of the EPR signal intensity is shifted to higher power for the acetyleneand cyanide-dependent signals, consistent with a change in the relaxation properties of the spin system of FeMo-cofactor. Finally, the α-96Leu-substituted MoFe protein incubated with 13C-labeled cyanide displays a 13C ENDOR signal with an isotropic hyperfine coupling of 0.42 MHz in Q-band Mims pulsed ENDOR spectra. This indicates the existence of some spin density on the cyanide, and thus suggests that the new component of the cyanide-dependent EPR signals arise from the direct bonding of cyanide to the FeMo-cofactor. These data indicate that both acetylene and cyanide are able to interact with FeMo-cofactor contained within the α-96-substituted MoFe proteins in the resting state. These results support a model where effective interaction of substrates or inhibitors with FeMo-cofactor occurs as a consequence of both increased reactivity and accessibility of FeMo-cofactor under turnover conditions. We suggest that, for the wild-type MoFe protein, the α-96Arg side chain acts as a gatekeeper, moving during turnover in order to permit accessibility of acetylene or cyanide to a specific [4Fe-4S] face of FeMo-cofactor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13816-13825
Number of pages10
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 20 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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