Two distinct metal-binding sites, termed alpha and beta, have been characterized in 5-aminolaevulinic acid dehydratase from Escherichia coli. The alpha-site binds a Zn2+ ion that is essential for catalytic activity. This site can also utilize other metal ions able to function as a Lewis acid in the reaction mechanism, such as Mg2+ or Co2+. The beta-site is exclusively a transition-metal-ion-binding site thought to be involved in protein conformation, although a metal bound at this site only appears to be essential for activity if Mg2+ is to be bound at the alpha-site. The alpha- and beta-sites may be distinguished from one another by their different abilities to bind divalent-metal ions at different pH values. The occupancy of the beta-site with Zn2+ results in a decrease of protein fluorescence at pH 6. Occupancy of the alpha- and beta-sites with Co2+ results in u.v.-visible spectral changes. Spectroscopic studies with Co2+ have tentatively identified three cysteine residues at the beta-site and one at the alpha-site. Reaction with N-ethyl[14C]maleimide preferentially labels cysteine-130 at the alpha-site when Co2+ occupies the beta-site.

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