Activation of O2 by the diiron(II/II) cluster in protein R2 of class I ribonucleotide reductase generates the enzyme's essential tyrosyl radical. A crucial step in this reaction is the transfer of an electron from solution to a diiron(II/II)-O2 adduct during formation of the radical-generating, diiron(III/IV) intermediate X. In the reaction of R2 from Escherichia coli, this electron injection is initiated by the rapid (>400 s-1 at 5°C), transient oxidation of the near-surface residue, tryptophan 48, to a cation radical and is blocked by substitution of W48 with F, A, G, Y, L, or Q. By contrast, a study of the cognate reaction in protein R2 from mouse suggested that electron injection might be the slowest step in generation of its tyrosyl radical, Y177• [Schmidt, P. P., Rova, U., Katterle, B., Thelander, L., and Gräslund, A. (1998) J. Biol. Chem. 273, 21463-21472]. The crucial evidence was the observation that Y177• production is slowed by ∼30-fold upon substitution of W103, the cognate of the electron-shuttling W48 in E. coli R2, with tyrosine. In this work, we have applied stopped-flow absorption and freeze-quench electron paramagnetic resonance and Mössbauer spectroscopies to the mouse R2 reaction to evaluate the possibility that an already sluggish electron-transfer step is slowed by 30-fold by substitution of this key residue. The drastically reduced accumulation of cluster X, failure of precursors to the intermediate to accumulate, and, most importantly, first-order dependence of the rate of Y177• formation on the concentration of O2 prove that addition of O2 to the diiron(II/II) cluster, rather than electron injection, is the slowest step in the R2-W103Y reaction. This finding indicates that the basis for the slowing of Y177• formation by the W103Y substitution is an unexpected secondary effect on the structure or dynamics of the protein, its diiron(II/II) cluster, or both rather than the expected chemical effect on the electron injection step.
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