The purification and characterization of three enzymes involved in ethanol formation from acetyl-CoA in Thermoanaerobacter ethanolicus 39E (formerly Clostridium thermohydrosulfuricum 39E) is described. The secondary-alcohol dehydrogenase (2 degrees Adh) was determined to be a homotetramer of 40 kDa subunits (SDS/PAGE) with a molecular mass of 160 kDa. The 2 degrees Adh had a lower catalytic efficiency for the oxidation of 1 degree alcohols, including ethanol, than for the oxidation of secondary (2 degrees) alcohols or the reduction of ketones or aldehydes. This enzyme possesses a significant acetyl-CoA reductive thioesterase activity as determined by NADPH oxidation, thiol formation and ethanol production. The primary-alcohol dehydrogenase (1 degree Adh) was determined to be a homotetramer of 41.5 kDa (SDS/PAGE) subunits with a molecular mass of 170 kDa. The 1 degree Adh used both NAD(H) and NADP(H) and displayed higher catalytic efficiencies for NADP(+)-dependent ethanol oxidation and NADH-dependent acetaldehyde (identical to ethanal) reduction than for NADPH-dependent acetaldehyde reduction or NAD(+)-dependent ethanol oxidation. The NAD(H)-linked acetaldehyde dehydrogenase was a homotetramer (360 kDa) of identical subunits (100 kDa) that readily catalysed thioester cleavage and condensation. The 1 degree Adh was expressed at 5-20% of the level of the 2 degrees Adh throughout the growth cycle on glucose. The results suggest that the 2 degrees Adh primarily functions in ethanol production from acetyl-CoA and acetaldehyde, whereas the 1 degree Adh functions in ethanol consumption for nicotinamide-cofactor recycling.

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