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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1991 Oct 1; 88(19): 8450–8454.

Catalytic properties of an Escherichia coli formate dehydrogenase mutant in which sulfur replaces selenium.


Formate dehydrogenase H of Escherichia coli contains selenocysteine as an integral amino acid. We have purified a mutant form of the enzyme in which cysteine replaces selenocysteine. To elucidate the essential catalytic role of selenocysteine, kinetic and physical properties of the mutant enzyme were compared with those of wild type. The mutant and wild-type enzymes displayed similar pH dependencies with respect to activity and stability, although the mutant enzyme profiles were slightly shifted to more alkaline pH. Both enzymes were inactivated by reaction with iodoacetamide; however, addition of the substrate, formate, was necessary to render the enzymes susceptible to alkylation. Alkylation-induced inactivation was highly dependent on pH, with each enzyme displaying an alkylation vs. pH profile suggestive of an essential selenol or thiol. Both forms of the enzyme use a ping-pong bi-bi kinetic mechanism. The mutant enzyme binds formate with greater affinity than does the wild-type enzyme, as shown by reduced values of Km and Kd. However, the mutant enzyme has a turnover number which is more than two orders of magnitude lower than that of the native selenium-containing enzyme. The lower turnover number results from a diminished reaction rate for the initial step of the overall reaction, as found in kinetic analyses that employed the alternative substrate deuterioformate. These results indicate that the selenium of formate dehydrogenase H is directly involved in formate oxidation. The observed differences in kinetic properties may help explain the evolutionary conservation of selenocysteine at the enzyme's active site.

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