Mechanical coupling in the nitrogenase complex

Qi Huang, Monika Tokmina-Lukaszewska, Lewis E. Johnson, Hayden Kallas, Bojana Ginovska, John W. Peters, Lance C. Seefeldt, Brian Bothner, Simone Raugei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The enzyme nitrogenase reduces dinitrogen to ammonia utilizing electrons, protons, and energy obtained from the hydrolysis of ATP. Mo-dependent nitrogenase is a symmetric dimer, with each half comprising an ATP-dependent reductase, termed the Fe Protein, and a catalytic protein, known as the MoFe protein, which hosts the electron transfer P-cluster and the active-site metal cofactor (FeMo-co). A series of synchronized events for the electron transfer have been characterized experimentally, in which electron delivery is coupled to nucleotide hydrolysis and regulated by an intricate allosteric network. We report a graph theory analysis of the mechanical coupling in the nitrogenase complex as a key step to understanding the dynamics of allosteric regulation of nitrogen reduction. This analysis shows that regions near the active sites undergo large-scale, large-amplitude correlated motions that enable communications within each half and between the two halves of the complex. Computational predictions of mechanically regions were validated against an analysis of the solution phase dynamics of the nitrogenase complex via hydrogen-deuterium exchange. These regions include the P-loops and the switch regions in the Fe proteins, the loop containing the residue β-188Ser adjacent to the P-cluster in the MoFe protein, and the residues near the protein-protein interface. In particular, it is found that: (i) within each Fe protein, the switch regions I and II are coupled to the [4Fe-4S] cluster; (ii) within each half of the complex, the switch regions I and II are coupled to the loop containing β-188Ser; (iii) between the two halves of the complex, the regions near the nucleotide binding pockets of the two Fe proteins (in particular the P-loops, located over 130 Å apart) are also mechanically coupled. Notably, we found that residues next to the P-cluster (in particular the loop containing β-188Ser) are important for communication between the two halves.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1008719
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 4 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics

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