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Protein Sci. 2000 May;9(5):1024-30.

Post-translational modification is essential for catalytic activity of nitrile hydratase.

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RIKEN (The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research), Wako, Saitama, Japan.


Nitrile hydratase from Rhodococcus sp. N-771 is an alphabeta heterodimer with a nonheme ferric iron in the catalytic center. In the catalytic center, alphaCys112 and alphaCys114 are modified to a cysteine sulfinic acid (Cys-SO2H) and a cysteine sulfenic acid (Cys-SOH), respectively. To understand the function and the biogenic mechanism of these modified residues, we reconstituted the nitrile hydratase from recombinant unmodified subunits. The alphabeta complex reconstituted under argon exhibited no activity. However, it gradually gained the enzymatic activity through aerobic incubation. ESI-LC/MS analysis showed that the anaerobically reconstituted alphabeta complex did not have the modification of alphaCys112-SO2H and aerobic incubation induced the modification. The activity of the reconstituted alphabeta complex correlated with the amount of alphaCys112-SO2H. Furthermore, ESI-LC/MS analyses of the tryptic digest of the reconstituted complex, removed of ferric iron at low pH and carboxamidomethylated without reduction, suggested that alphaCys114 is modified to Cys-SOH together with the sulfinic acid modification of alphaCys112. These results suggest that alphaCys112 and alphaCys114 are spontaneously oxidized to Cys-SO2H and Cys-SOH, respectively, and alphaCys112-SO2H is responsible for the catalytic activity solely or in combination with alphaCys114-SOH.

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