The membrane-bound hydrogenase (EC class 1.12) of aerobically grown Escherichia coli cells was solubilized by treatment with deoxycholate and pancreatin. The enzyme was further purified to electrophoretic homogeneity by chromoatographic methods, including hydrophobic-interaction chromatography, with a yield of 10% as judged by activity and an overall purification of 2140-fold. The hydrogenase was a dimer of identical subunits with a mol.wt. of 113,000 and contained 12 iron and 12 acid-labile sulphur atoms per molecule. The epsilon 400 was 49,000M-1 . cm-1. The hydrogenase catalysed both H2 evolution and H2 uptake with a variety of artificial electron carriers, but would not interact with flavodoxin, ferredoxin or nicotinamide and flavin nucleotides. We were unable to identify any physiological electron carrier for the hydrogenase. With Methyl Viologen as the electron carrier, the pH optimum for H2 evolution and H2 uptake was 6.5 and 8.5 respectively. The enzyme was stable for long periods at neutral pH, low temperatures and under anaerobic conditions. The half-life of the hydrogenase under air at room temperature was about 12 h, but it could be stabilized by Methyl Viologen and Benzyl Viologen, both of which are electron carriers for the enzyme, and by bovine serum albumin. The hydrogenase was strongly inhibited by carbon monoxide (Ki = 1870Pa), heavy-metal salts and high concentrations of buffers, but was resistant to inhibition by thiol-blocking and metal-complexing reagents. These aerobically grown E. coli cells lacked formate hydrogenlyase activity and cytochrome c552.

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