Recent crystal structures of xanthine dehydrogenase, xanthine oxidase and related enzymes have paved the way for a detailed structural and functional analysis of these enzymes. One problem encountered when working with these proteins, especially with recombinant protein, is that the preparations tend to be heterogeneous, with only a fraction of the enzyme molecules being active. This is due to the incompleteness of post-translational modification, which for this protein is a complex, and incompletely understood, process involving incorporation of the Mo and Fe/S centres. The enzyme has been expressed previously in both Drosophila and insect cells using baculovirus. The insect cell system has been exploited by Iwasaki et al. [Iwasaki, Okamoto, Nishino, Mizushima and Hori (2000) J. Biochem (Tokyo) 127, 771–778], but, for the rat enzyme, yields a complex mixture of enzyme forms, containing around 10% of functional enzyme. The expression of Drosophila melanogaster xanthine dehydrogenase in Aspergillus nidulans is described. The purified protein has been analysed both functionally and spectroscopically. Its specific activity is indistinguishable from that of the enzyme purified from fruit flies [Doyle, Burke, Chovnick, Dutton, Whittle and Bray (1996) Eur. J. Biochem. 239, 782–795], and it appears to be more active than recombinant xanthine dehydrogenase produced with the baculovirus system. EPR spectra of the recombinant Drosophila enzyme are reported, including parameters for the Fe/S centres. Only a very weak ‘Fe/SIII’ signal (g1,2,3, 2.057, 1.930, 1.858) was observed, in contrast to the strong analogous signal reported for the enzyme from baculovirus. Since this signal appears to be associated with incomplete post-translational modification, this is consistent with relatively more complete cofactor incorporation in the Aspergillus-produced enzyme. Thus we have developed a recombinant expression system for D. melanogaster xanthine dehydrogenase, which can be used for the production of site-specific mutations of this enzyme.

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