The Heme Nitric oxide/OXygen binding (H-NOX) family of proteins have important functions in gaseous ligand signaling in organisms from bacteria to humans, including nitric oxide (NO) sensing in mammals, and provide a model system for probing ligand selectivity in hemoproteins. A unique vibrational feature that is ubiquitous throughout the H-NOX family is the presence of a high C-O stretching frequency. To investigate the cause of this spectroscopic characteristic, the Fe-CO and C-O stretching frequencies were probed in the H-NOX domain from Thermoanaerobacter tengcongensis (Tt H-NOX) using resonance Raman (RR) spectroscopy. Four classes of heme pocket mutants were generated to assess the changes in stretching frequency: (i) the distal H-bonding network, (ii) the proximal histidine ligand, (iii) modulation of the heme conformation via Ile-5 and Pro-115, and (iv) the conserved Tyr-Ser-Arg (YxSxR) motif. These mutations revealed important electrostatic interactions that dampen the back-donation of the Fe II d π electrons into the CO π* orbitals. The most significant change occurred upon disruption of the H-bonds between the strictly conserved YxSxR motif and the heme propionate groups, producing two dominant CO-bound heme conformations. One conformer was structurally similar to Tt H-NOX WT, whereas the other displayed a decrease in v(C-O) of up to ∼70 cm -1 relative to the WT protein, with minimal changes in v(Fe-CO). Taken together, these results show that the electrostatic interactions in the Tt H-NOX binding pocket are primarily responsible for the high v(C-O) by decreasing the Fe d π → CO π* back-donation and suggest that the dominant mechanism by which this family modulates the Fe II-CO bond likely involves the YxSxR motif.
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