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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1994 Apr;60(4):1342-6.

Enzymatic catalysis of mercury methylation by Desulfovibrio desulfuricans LS.

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Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Cook College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903-0231.


The recently defined role of methylcobalamin in Hg2+ methylation by Desulfovibrio desulfuricans LS enabled us to reexamine the question of whether the principal source of methylmercury is spontaneous transmethylation or an enzymatically catalyzed process. In cell extracts of D. desulfuricans LS, over 95% of the 57Co label was associated with macromolecules rather than with free cobalamin. Both gel filtration and electrophoresis of cell extracts identified a single corrinoid protein of 40 kDa in size. This finding, in combination with the previously reported light-reversible propyl iodide inhibition of the Hg2+ methylation process, led us to propose that this 40-kDa corrinoid protein is the in vivo methyl donor in D. desulfuricans LS. Under reducing conditions, cell extracts containing the corrinoid protein produced 14CH3Hg+ from Hg2+ and 5-14CH3-tetrahydrofolate with a maximum specific activity of 0.73 nmol min-1 mg of cell protein-1. The sequence of methyl transfer was from methyltetrahydrofolate to the corrinoid protein to Hg2+. The rate of methylation versus the Hg2+ concentration followed Michaelis-Menten kinetics, with an apparent Km of 0.87 mM HgCl2. The activity was oxygen sensitive, and Hg2+ methylation was optimal at 35 degrees C and pH 6.5. The observation of saturation kinetics and the 600-fold-higher rate of Hg2+ methylation (at pH 7.0) by cell extracts, compared with transmethylation by free methylcobalamin, proved that in vivo Hg2+ methylation is an enzymatically catalyzed process.

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