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Biochemistry. 1999 Nov 30;38(48):15915-26.

Identification of the zinc ligands in cobalamin-independent methionine synthase (MetE) from Escherichia coli.

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Biophysics Research Division and Department of Biological Chemistry and Department of Chemistry, The University of Michigan, 930 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.

Erratum in

  • Biochemistry 2001 Nov 6;40(44):13406.


Cobalamin-independent methionine synthase (MetE) from Escherichia coli catalyzes the transfer of a methyl group from methyltetrahydrofolate to homocysteine to form tetrahydrofolate and methionine. It contains 1 equiv of zinc that is essential for its catalytic activity. Extended X-ray absorption fine structure analysis of the zinc-binding site has suggested tetrahedral coordination with two sulfur (cysteine) and one nitrogen or oxygen ligands provided by the enzyme and an exchangeable oxygen or nitrogen ligand that is replaced by the homocysteine thiol group in the enzyme-substrate complex [González, J. C., Peariso, K., Penner-Hahn, J. E., and Matthews, R. G. (1996) Biochemistry 35, 12228-34]. Sequence alignment of MetE homologues shows that His641, Cys643, and Cys726 are the only conserved residues. We report here the construction, expression, and purification of the His641Gln, Cys643Ser, and Cys726Ser mutants of MetE. Each mutant displays significantly impaired activity and contains less than 1 equiv of zinc upon purification. Furthermore, each mutant binds zinc with lower binding affinity (K(a) approximately 10(14) M(-)(1)) compared to the wild-type enzyme (K(a) > 10(16) M(-)(1)). All the MetE mutants are able to bind homocysteine. X-ray absorption spectroscopy analysis of the zinc-binding sites in the mutants indicates that the four-coordinate zinc site is preserved but that the ligand sets are changed. Our results demonstrate that Cys643 and Cys726 are two of the zinc ligands in MetE from E. coli and suggest that His641 is a third endogenous ligand. The effects of the mutations on the specific activities of the mutant proteins suggest that zinc and homocysteine binding alone are not sufficient for activity; the chemical nature of the ligands is also a determining factor for catalytic activity in agreement with model studies of the alkylation of zinc-thiolate complexes.

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