The molar activity of crystalline mitochondrial aspartate aminotransferase is decreased to 10% of that of the enzyme in solution. The activity was measured in suspensions of non-cross-linked microcrystals (average dimensions 22 microns X 5 microns X 0.8 microns) in 30% (w/v) poly(ethylene glycol). Kinetic tests ruled out the possibility that diffusion of the substrate in the crystals is rate-limiting. The observed decrease in catalytic efficiency can be attributed exclusively to crystal-packing effects. A direct inhibition by poly(ethylene glycol) is excluded because poly(ethylene glycol), with average Mr 6000, cannot penetrate the liquid channels of the crystals, owing to its large Stokes radius. The crystals examined were triclinic and of the same habit as those used for high-resolution X-ray-crystallographic analysis [Ford, Eichele & Jansonius (1980) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 77, 2559-2563]. The catalytic competence of crystalline aspartate aminotransferase confirms the relevance of the spatial model of this protein for the elucidation of its mechanism of action.

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