The catalytic-site thiol groups of papain (EC 3.4.22.2) and actinidin (EC 3.4.22.14) were each labelled with the nitrobenzofurazan (Nbf) chromophore by reaction with 4-chloro-7-nitrobenzofurazan at pH 4.4. The electronic-absorption spectra of both labelled enzymes were determined in aqueous solution, in the pH ranges approx. 2-5 for S-Nbf-papain and approx. 3.3-8 for S-Nbf-actinidin, and for the latter also in 6 M-guanidinium chloride. The spectrum of S-Nbf-papain is characterized by lambda max. = 402 nm at pH 5 and by lambda max. = 422 nm at pH 2.18. The pH-dependent shift in lambda max. accompanies a pH-dependent change in A 430, the nature of which is consistent with its dependence on a single ionizing group with pKa 3.7. The spectrum of S-Nbf-actinidin is pH-independent in the pH range approx. 3.3-8 and is characterized by lambda max. = 413 nm. This absorption maximum shifts to 425 nm in 6M-guanidinium chloride. These results are discussed and related to those reported previously from studies on papain and actinidin with various reactivity probes. Despite the close similarity in the catalytic sites of papain and actinidin deduced from X-ray-diffraction studies, the considerable differences in their reactivity characteristics are mirrored by differences in their electric fields detected by the Nbf spectroscopic label. The microenvironment in the catalytic site of actinidin appears to favour the existence of ions significantly more than in the corresponding region in papain.

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