The pyruvate dehydrogenase complex of Bacillus stearothermophilus was treated with Staphylococcus aureus V8 proteinase, causing cleavage of the dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase polypeptide chain (apparent Mr 57 000), inhibition of the enzymic activity and disassembly of the complex. Fragments of the dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase chains with apparent Mr 28 000, which contained the acetyltransferase activity, remained assembled as a particle ascribed the role of an inner core of the complex. The lipoic acid residue of each dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase chain was found as part of a small but stable domain that, unlike free lipoamide, was able still to function as a substrate for reductive acetylation by pyruvate in the presence of intact enzyme complex or isolated pyruvate dehydrogenase (lipoamide) component. The lipoyl domain was acidic and had an apparent Mr of 6500 (by sedimentation equilibrium), 7800 (by sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis) and 10 000 and 20 400 (by gel filtration in the presence and in the absence respectively of 6M-guanidinium chloride). 1H-n.m.r. spectroscopy of the dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase inner core demonstrated that it did not contain the segments of highly mobile polypeptide chain found in the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex. 1H-n.m.r. spectroscopy of the lipoyl domain demonstrated that it had a stable and defined tertiary structure. From these and other experiments, a model of the dihydrolipoamide acetyltransferase chain is proposed in which the small, folded, lipoyl domain comprises the N-terminal region, and the large, folded, core-forming domain that contains the acetyltransferase active site comprises the C-terminal region. These two regions are separated by a third segment of the chain, which includes a substantial region of polypeptide chain that enjoys high conformational mobility and facilitates movement of the lipoyl domain between the various active sites in the enzyme complex.

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