We report results of continuum electrostatics calculations of the cofactor redox potentials, and of the titratable group pKa values, in hydroxylamine oxidoreductase (HAO). A picture of a sophisticated multicomponent control of electron flow in the protein emerged from the studies. First, we found that neighboring heme cofactors strongly interact electrostatically, with energies of 50-100 mV. Thus, cofactor redox potentials depend on the oxidation state of other cofactors, and cofactor redox potentials in the active (partially oxidized) enzyme differ substantially from the values obtained in electrochemical redox titration experiments. We found that, together, solvent-exposed heme 1 (having a large negative redox potential) and heme 2 (having a large positive redox potential) form a lock for electrons generated during the oxidation reaction The attachment of HAO's physiological electron transfer partner cytochrome c554 results in a positive shift in the redox potential of heme 1, and "opens the electron gate". Electrons generated as a result of hydroxylamine oxidation travel to heme 3 and heme 8, which have redox potentials close to 0 mV versus NHE (this result is in partial disagreement with an existing experimental redox potential assignment). The closeness of hemes 3 and 8 from different enzyme subunits allows redistribution of the four electrons generated as a result of hydroxylamine oxidation, among the three enzyme subunits. For the multielectron oxidation process to be maximally efficient, the redox potentials of the electron-accepting cofactors should be roughly equal, and electrostatic interactions between extra electrons on these cofactors should be minimal. The redox potential assignments presented in the paper satisfy this general rule.
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