PPO (protoporphyrinogen IX oxidase) catalyses the flavin-dependent six-electron oxidation of protogen (protoporphyrinogen IX) to form proto (protoporphyrin IX), a crucial step in haem and chlorophyll biosynthesis. The apparent Km value for wild-type tobacco PPO2 (mitochondrial PPO) was 1.17 μM, with a Vmax of 4.27 μM·min−1·mg−1 and a catalytic activity kcat of 6.0 s−1. Amino acid residues that appear important for substrate binding in a crystal structure-based model of the substrate docked in the active site were interrogated by site-directed mutagenesis. PPO2 variant F392H did not reveal detectable enzyme activity indicating an important role of Phe392 in substrate ring A stacking. Mutations of Leu356, Leu372 and Arg98 increased kcat values up to 100-fold, indicating that the native residues are not essential for establishing an orientation of the substrate conductive to catalysis. Increased Km values of these PPO2 variants from 2- to 100-fold suggest that these residues are involved in, but not essential to, substrate binding via rings B and C. Moreover, one prominent structural constellation of human PPO causing the disease variegate porphyria (N67W/S374D) was successfully transferred into the tobacco PPO2 background. Therefore tobacco PPO2 represents a useful model system for the understanding of the structure–function relationship underlying detrimental human enzyme defects.

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