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Biochemistry. 1989 Feb 7;28(3):1183-94.

Mutagenesis of the N- and C-terminal cysteine pairs of Tn501 mercuric ion reductase: consequences for bacterial detoxification of mercurials.

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  • 1Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


Mercuric ion reductase (the merA gene product) is a unique member of the class of FAD and redox-active disulfide-containing oxidoreductases by virtue of its ability to reduce Hg(II) to Hg(0) as the last step in bacterial detoxification of mercurials. In addition to the active site redox-active disulfide, formed between Cys135 and Cys140 in Tn501 MerA, the protein products of the three merA gene sequences published to date have two additional conserved pairs of cysteines, one near the N-terminus (Cys10Cys13 in Tn501 MerA) and another near the C-terminus (Cys558Cys559 in Tn501 MerA). Neither of these pairs is found in other members of this enzyme family. To assess the possible roles of these peripheral cysteines in the Hg(II) detoxification pathway, we have constructed and characterized one single mutant, Cys10Ala13, and two double mutants, Ala10Ala13 and Ala558Ala559. The N-terminal mutants are fully functional in vivo as determined by HgCl2 resistance studies, showing the N-terminal cysteine pair to be dispensable. In contrast, the Ala558Ala559 mutant is defective for HgCl2 resistance in vivo and Hg(SR)2 reduction in vitro, thereby implicating Cys558 and/or Cys559 in Hg(II) reduction by the wild-type enzyme. Other activities, such as NADPH/thio-NADP+ transhydrogenation, NADPH oxidation, and DTNB reduction, are unimpaired in this mutant.

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