The mitochondrial electron-transfer flavoprotein (ETF) is a heterodimer containing only one FAD. In previous work on the structure-function relationships of ETF, its interaction with the general acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (GAD) was studied by chemical cross-linking with heterobifunctional reagents [D. J. Steenkamp (1987) Biochem. J. 243, 519-524]. GAD whose lysine residues were substituted with 3-(2-pyridyldithio)propionyl groups was preferentially cross-linked to the small subunit of ETF, the lysine residues of which had been substituted with 4-mercaptobutyramidine (MBA) groups. This work was extended to the interaction of ETF with ETF-ubiquinone oxidoreductase (ETF-Q ox). ETF-Q ox was partially inactivated by modification with N-succinimidyl 3-(2-pyridyldithio)propionate to introduce pyridyl disulphide structures. A similar modification of ETF caused a large increase in the apparent Michaelis constant of ETF-Q ox for modified ETF owing to the loss of positive charge on some critical lysines of ETF. When ETF-Q ox was modified with 2-iminothiolane to introduce 4-mercaptobutyramidine groups, only a minor effect on the activity of the enzyme was observed. To retain the positive charges on the lysine residues of ETF, pyridyl disulphide structures were introduced by treating ETF with 2-iminothiolane in the presence of 2,2′-dithiodipyridyl. The electron-transfer activity of the resultant ETF preparation containing 4-(2-pyridyldithio)butyramidine (PDBA) groups was only slightly affected. When ETF-Q ox substituted with MBA groups was mixed with ETF bearing PDBA groups, at least 70% of the cross-links formed between the two proteins were between the small subunit of ETF and ETF-Q ox. ETF-Q ox, therefore, interacts predominantly with the same subunit of ETF as GAD. Variables which affect the selectivity of ETF-Q ox cross-linking to the subunits of ETF are considered.

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