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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Department of Chemistry


Cysteine-bound hemes are key components of many enzymes and biological sensors. Protonation (deprotonation) of the Cys ligand often accompanies redox transformations of these centers. To characterize these phenomena, we have engineered a series of Thr78Cys/Lys79Gly/Met80X mutants of yeast cytochrome c (cyt c) in which Cys78 becomes one of the axial ligands to the heme. At neutral pH, the protonation state of the coordinated Cys differs for the ferric and ferrous heme species, with Cys binding as a thiolate and a thiol, respectively. Analysis of redox-dependent stability and alkaline transitions of these model proteins, as well as comparisons to Cys binding studies with the minimalist heme peptide microperoxidase-8, demonstrate that the protein scaffold and solvent interactions play important roles in stabilizing a particular Cys–heme coordination. The increased stability of ferric thiolate compared with ferrous thiol arises mainly from entropic factors. This robust cyt c model system provides access to all four forms of Cys-bound heme, including the ferric thiol. Protein motions control the rates of heme redox reactions, and these effects are amplified at low pH, where the proteins are less stable. Thermodynamic signatures and redox reactivity of the model Cys-bound hemes highlight the critical role of the protein scaffold and its dynamics in modulating redox-linked transitions between thiols and thiolates.



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