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Biochemistry. 2000 Nov 14;39(45):13880-90.

Protonation state of methyltetrahydrofolate in a binary complex with cobalamin-dependent methionine synthase.

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Department of Medicinal Chemistry, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1055, USA.


N5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (CH(3)-H(4)folate) donates a methyl group to the cob(I)alamin cofactor in the reaction catalyzed by cobalamin-dependent methionine synthase (MetH, EC Nucleophilic displacement of a methyl group attached to a tertiary amine is a reaction without an obvious precedent in bioorganic chemistry. Activation of CH(3)-H(4)folate by protonation prior to transfer of the methyl group has been the favored mechanism. Protonation at N5 would lead to formation of an aminium cation, and quaternary amines such as 5,5-dimethyltetrahydropterin have been shown to transfer methyl groups to cob(I)alamin. Because CH(3)-H(4)folate is an enamine, protonation could occur either at N5 to form an aminium cation or on a conjugated carbon with formation of an iminium cation. We used (13)C distortionless enhancement by polarization transfer (DEPT) NMR spectroscopy to infer that CH(3)-H(4)folate in aqueous solution protonates at N5, not on carbon. CH(3)-H(4)folate must eventually protonate at N5 to form the product H(4)folate; however, this protonation could occur either upon formation of the binary enzyme-CH(3)-H(4)folate complex or later in the reaction mechanism. Protonation at N5 is accompanied by substantial changes in the visible absorbance spectrum of CH(3)-H(4)folate. We have measured the spectral changes associated with binding of CH(3)-H(4)folate to a catalytically competent fragment of MetH over the pH range from 5.5 to 8.5. These studies indicate that CH(3)-H(4)folate is bound in the unprotonated form throughout this pH range and that protonated CH(3)-H(4)folate does not bind to the enzyme. Our observations are rationalized by sequence homologies between the folate-binding region of MetH and dihydropteroate synthase, which suggest that the pterin ring is bound in the hydrophobic core of an alpha(8)beta(8) barrel in both enzymes. The results from these studies are difficult to reconcile with an S(N)2 mechanism for methyl transfer and suggest that the presence of the cobalamin cofactor is important for CH(3)-H(4)folate activation. We propose that protonation of N5 occurs after carbon-nitrogen bond cleavage, and we invoke a mechanism involving oxidative addition of Co(1+) to the N5-methyl bond to rationalize our results.

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