Calcium is an essential cofactor in the oxygen-evolving complex (OEC) of photosystem II (PSII). The removal of Ca2+ or its substitution by any metal ion except Sr2+ inhibits oxygen evolution. We used steady-state enzyme kinetics to measure the rate of O2 evolution in PSII samples treated with an extensive series of mono-, di-, and trivalent metal ions in order to determine the basis for the affinity of metal ions for the Ca2+-binding site. Our results show that the Ca2+-binding site in PSII behaves very similarly to the Ca2+-binding sites in other proteins, and we discuss the implications this has for the structure of the site in PSII. Activity measurements as a function of time show that the binding site achieves equilibrium in 4 h for all of the PSII samples investigated. The binding affinities of the metal ions are modulated by the 17 and 23 kDa extrinsic polypeptides; their removal decreases the free energy of binding of the metal ions by 2.5 kcal/mol, but does not significantly change the time required to reach equilibrium. Monovalent ions are effectively excluded from the Ca2+-binding site, exhibiting no inhibition of O2 evolution. Di- and trivalent metal ions with ionic radii similar to that of Ca2+ (0.99 Å) bind competitively with Ca2+ and have the highest binding affinity, while smaller metal ions bind more weakly and much larger ones do not bind competitively. This is consistent with a size-selective Ca2+-binding site that has a rigid array of coordinating ligands. Despite the large number of metal ions that competitively replace Ca2+ in the OEC, only Sr2+ is capable of partially restoring activity. Comparing the physical characteristics of the metal ions studied, we identify the pKa of the aqua ion as the factor that determines the functional competence of the metal ion. This suggests that Ca2+ is directly involved in the chemistry of water oxidation and is not only a structural cofactor in the OEC. We propose that the role of Ca2+ is to act as a Lewis acid, binding a substrate water molecule and tuning its reactivity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas