A detailed kinetic analysis of the oxidation of mono-substituted mandelates catalysed by L-(+)-mandelate dehydrogenase (L-MDH) from Rhodotorula graminis has been carried out to elucidate the role of the substrate in the catalytic mechanism. Values of Km and kcat. (25 degrees C, pH 7.5) were determined for mandelate and eight substrate analogues. Values of the activation parameters, delta H++ and delta S++ (determined over the range 5-37 degrees C), for mandelate and all substrate analogues were compensatory resulting in similar low values for free energies of activation delta G++ (approx. 60 kJ.mol-1 at 298.15 K) in all cases. A kinetic-isotope-effect value of 1.1 +/- 0.1 was observed using D,L-[2-2H]mandelate as substrate and was invariant over the temperature range studied. The logarithm of kcat. values for the enzymic oxidation of mandelate and all substrate analogues (except 4-hydroxymandelate) showed good correlation with Taft's dual substituent constant omega (where omega = omega I + 0.64 omega +R) and gave a positive reaction constant value, rho, of 0.36 +/- 0.07. This linear free-energy relationship was verified by analysing the data using isokinetic methods. These findings support the hypothesis that the enzyme-catalysed reaction proceeds via the same transition state for each substrate and indicates that this transition state is relatively nonpolar but has an electron-rich centre at the alpha-carbon position.

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