Tetrahydrobiopterin [(6R)-5,6,7,8-tetrahydro-L-biopterin, H4biopterin] is one of several cofactors of nitric oxide synthases (EC Here we compared the action of N5-substituted derivatives on recombinant rat neuronal nitric oxide synthase with their effects on dihydropteridine reductase (EC and phenylalanine hydroxylase (EC, the well-studied classical H4biopterin-dependent reactions. H4biopterin substituted at N5 with methyl, hydroxymethyl, formyl and acetyl groups were used. Substitution at N5 occurs at a position critical to the redox cycle of the cofactor in phenylalanine hydroxylase/dihydropteridine reductase. We also included N2ʹ-methyl H4biopterin, a derivative substituted at a position not directly involved in redox cycling, as a control. As compared with N5-methyl H4biopterin, N5-formyl H4biopterin bound with twice the capacity but stimulated nitric oxide synthase to a lesser extent. Depending on the substituent used, N5-substituted derivatives were redox-active: N5-methyl- and N5-hydroxylmethyl H4biopterin, but not N5-formyl- and N5-acetyl H4biopterin, reduced 2,6-dichlorophenol indophenol. N5-Substituted H4biopterin derivatives were not oxidized to products serving as substrates for dihydropteridine reductase and, depending on the substituent, were competitive inhibitors of phenylalanine hydroxylase: N5-methyl- and N5-hydroxymethyl H4biopterin inhibited phenylalanine hydroxylase, whereas N5-formyl- and N5-acetyl H4biopterin had no effect. Our data demonstrate differences in the mechanism of stimulation of phenylalanine hydroxylase and nitric oxide synthase by H4biopterin. They are compatible with a novel, non-classical, redox-active contribution of H4biopterin to the catalysis of the nitric oxide synthase reaction.

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