The effect of thiol compounds on the monophenolase activity of tyrosinase was investigated using 4-hydroxyanisole as the substrate and dithiothreitol (DTT) as the model thiol compound. We have demonstrated three actions of DTT on tyrosinase-catalysed reactions: (1) direct reduction of the copper at the active site of the enzyme; (2) generation of secondary, oxidizable species by adduct formation with the o-quinone reaction product, 4-MOB, which leads to an increase in the total oxygen utilization by the reaction system; and (3) reversible inhibition of the enzyme. We confirm our previous observation that, at approx. 10 mol of DTT/mol of enzyme, the lag phase associated with monohydric phenol oxidation by tyrosinase is abolished. We suggest that this is due to reduction of the copper at the active site of the enzyme by DTT, since (a) reduction of active-site copper in situ by DTT was demonstrated by [Cu(I)]2-carbon monoxide complex formation and (b) abolition of the lag at low DTT concentration occurs without effect on the maximum rate of reaction or on the total amount of oxygen utilized. At concentrations of DTT above that required to abolish the lag, we found that the initial velocity of the reaction increased with increasing DTT, with a concomitant increase in the total oxygen utilization. This is due to the formation of DTT-4-methoxy-o-benzoquinone (4-MOB) adducts which provide additional dihydric phenol substrate either directly or by reducing nascent 4-MOB. We present n.m.r. evidence for the formation of mono- and di-aromatic DTT adducts with 4-MOB, consistent with a suggested reoxidation scheme in the presence of tyrosinase. Inhibition of the enzyme at concentrations of DTT above 300 pmol/unit of enzyme was released on exhaustion of DTT by adduct formation with 4-MOB as it was generated.

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