The reactions of wild-type trimethylamine dehydrogenase (TMADH) and of a His-172 Gln (H172Q) mutant were studied by rapid-mixing stopped-flow spectroscopy over the pH range 6.0-10.5, to address the potential role of His-172 in abstracting a proton from the substrate in a ‘carbanion’ mechanism for C-H bond cleavage. The pH-dependence of the limiting rate for flavin reduction (klim) was studied as a function of pH for the wild-type enzyme with perdeuterated trimethylamine as substrate. The use of perdeuterated trimethylamine facilitated the unequivocal identification of two kinetically influential ionizations in the enzyme-substrate complex, with macroscopic pKa values of 6.5±0.2 and 8.4±0.1. A plot of klim/Kd revealed a bell-shaped curve and two kinetically influential ionizations with macroscopic pKa values of 9.4±0.1 and 10.5±0.1. Mutagenesis of His-172, a potential active-site base and a component of a novel Tyr-His-Asp triad in the active site of TMADH, revealed that the pKa of 8.4±0.1 for the wild-type enzyme-substrate complex represents ionization of the imidazolium side-chain of His-172. H172Q TMADH retains catalytic competence throughout the pH range investigated. At pH 10.5, and in contrast with the wild-type enzyme, flavin reduction in H172Q TMADH is biphasic. The fast phase is dependent on the trimethylamine concentration and exhibits a kinetic isotope effect of about 3; C-H bond cleavage is thus partially rate-limiting. In contrast, the slow phase does not show hyperbolic dependence on substrate concentration, and the observed rate shows no dependence on isotope, revealing that C-H bond cleavage is not rate-limiting. The analysis of H172Q TMADH, together with data recently acquired for the Y169F mutant of TMADH, reveals that C-H bond breakage is not initiated via abstraction of a proton from the substrate by an active-site base. The transfer of reducing equivalents to flavin via a carbanion mechanism is therefore unlikely.

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