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Biochemistry. 2004 Dec 28;43(51):16285-92.

Mechanism of the dihydroorotase reaction.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, P.O. Box 30012, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77842-3012, USA.


Dihydroorotase (DHO) is a zinc metalloenzyme that functions in the pathway for the biosynthesis of pyrimidine nucleotides by catalyzing the reversible interconversion of carbamoyl aspartate and dihydroorotate. A chemical mechanism was proposed on the basis of an analysis of the effects of pH, metal substitution, solvent isotope effects, mutant proteins, and alternative substrates on the enzyme-catalyzed reaction. The pH-rate profiles for the hydrolysis of dihydroorotate or thiodihydroorotate demonstrated that a single group from the enzyme must be unprotonated for maximal catalytic activity. Conversely, the pH-rate profiles for the condensation of carbamoyl aspartate to dihydroorotate showed that a single group from the enzyme must be protonated for maximal catalytic activity. The native zinc ions within the active site of DHO were substituted with cobalt or cadmium by reconstitution of the apoenzyme with divalent cations in the presence of bicarbonate. The ionizations observed in the pH-rate profiles were dependent on the specific metal ion bound to the active site. Mutation of the residue (Asp-250) that hydrogen bonds to the bridging hydroxide (or water) resulted in the loss of catalytic activity. These results are consistent with the formation of a hydroxide bridge between the two divalent cations that functions as the nucleophile during the hydrolysis of dihydroorotate. In addition, Asp-250 is postulated to shuttle the proton from the bridging hydroxide to the leaving group amide during hydrolysis of dihydroorotate. The X-ray crystal structure of DHO showed that the exocyclic alpha-carboxylate of dihydroorotate is bound to the protein via electrostatic interactions with Arg-20, Asn-44, and His-254. Mutation of these residues resulted in the loss of catalytic activity, indicating that these residues are critical for substrate recognition. The thio analogue of dihydroorotate was found to be a good substrate of the enzyme. A comprehensive chemical mechanism for DHO was proposed on the basis of the experimental findings in this study and the X-ray crystal structure.

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