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Nature. 2000 Jun 1;405(6786):586-90.

Intraprotein radical transfer during photoactivation of DNA photolyase.

Author information

  • 1Section de Bioénergétique (CNRS URA 2096), CEA Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France.

Erratum in

  • Nature 2000 Oct 19;407(6806):926.


Amino-acid radicals play key roles in many enzymatic reactions. Catalysis often involves transfer of a radical character within the protein, as in class I ribonucleotide reductase where radical transfer occurs over 35 A, from a tyrosyl radical to a cysteine. It is currently debated whether this kind of long-range transfer occurs by electron transfer, followed by proton release to create a neutral radical, or by H-atom transfer, that is, simultaneous transfer of electrons and protons. The latter mechanism avoids the energetic cost of charge formation in the low dielectric protein, but it is less robust to structural changes than is electron transfer. Available experimental data do not clearly discriminate between these proposals. We have studied the mechanism of photoactivation (light-induced reduction of the flavin adenine dinucleotide cofactor) of Escherichia coli DNA photolyase using time-resolved absorption spectroscopy. Here we show that the excited flavin adenine dinucleotide radical abstracts an electron from a nearby tryptophan in 30 ps. After subsequent electron transfer along a chain of three tryptophans, the most remote tryptophan (as a cation radical) releases a proton to the solvent in about 300 ns, showing that electron transfer occurs before proton dissociation. A similar process may take place in photolyase-like blue-light receptors.

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