Heme Nitric oxide/OXygen binding (H-NOX) domains have provided a novel scaffold to probe ligand affinity in hemoproteins. Mutation of isoleucine 5, a conserved residue located in the heme-binding pocket of the H-NOX domain from Thermoanaerobacter tengcongensis (Tt H-NOX), was carried out to examine changes in oxygen (O 2)-binding properties. A series of I5 mutants (I5F, I5F/I75F, I5F/L144F, I5F/I75F/L144F) were investigated to probe the role of steric bulk within the heme pocket. The mutations significantly increased O 2 association rates (1.5-2.5-fold) and dissociation rates (8-190-fold) as compared to wild-type Tt H-NOX. Structural changes that accompanied the I5F mutation were characterized using X-ray crystallography and resonance Raman spectroscopy. A 1.67 Å crystal structure of the I5F mutant indicated that introducing a phenylalanine at position 5 resulted in a significant shift of the N-terminal domain of the protein, causing an opening of the heme pocket. This movement also resulted in an increased amount of flexibility at the N-terminus and the loop covering the N-terminal helix as indicated by the two conformations of the first six N-terminal amino acids, high B-factors in this region of the protein, and partially discontinuous electron density. In addition, introduction of a phenylalanine at position 5 resulted in increased flexibility of the heme within the pocket and weakened hydrogen bonding to the bound O 2 as measured by resonance Raman spectroscopy. This study provides insight into the critical role of I5 in controlling conformational flexibility and ligand affinity in H-NOX proteins.
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