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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 1992 Feb;8(2):109-35.

Structure-function relationships among the nickel-containing hydrogenases.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Georgia, Athens 30602.


The enzymology of the heterodimeric (NiFe) and (NiFeSe) hydrogenases, the monomeric nickel-containing hydrogenases plus the multimeric F420-(NiFe) and NAD(+)-(NiFe) hydrogenases are summarized and discussed in terms of subunit localization of the redox-active nickel and non-heme iron clusters. It is proposed that nickel is ligated solely by amino acid residues of the large subunit and that the non-heme iron clusters are ligated by other cysteine-rich polypeptides encoded in the hydrogenase operons which are not necessarily homologous in either structure or function. Comparison of the hydrogenase operons or putative operons and their hydrogenase genes indicate that the arrangement, number and types of genes in these operons are not conserved among the various types of hydrogenases except for the gene encoding the large subunit. Thus, the presence of the gene for the large subunit is the sole feature common to all known nickel-containing hydrogenases and unites these hydrogenases into a large but diverse gene family. Although the different genes for the large subunits may possess only nominal general derived amino acid homology, all large subunit genes sequenced to date have the sequence R-X-C-X-X-C fully conserved in the amino terminal region of the polypeptide chain and the sequence of D-P-C-X-X-C fully conserved in the carboxyl terminal region. It is proposed that these conserved motifs of amino acids provide the ligands required for the binding of the redox-active nickel. The existing EXAFS (Extended X-ray Absorption Fine Structure) information is summarized and discussed in terms of the numbers and types of ligands to the nickel and the various redox species of nickel defined by EPR spectroscopy. New information concerning the ligands to nickel is presented based on site-directed mutagenesis of the gene encoding the large subunit of the (NiFe) hydrogenase-1 of Escherichia coli. Based on considerations of the biochemical, molecular and biophysical information, ligand environments of the nickel in different redox states of the (NiFe) hydrogenase are proposed.

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