The survival and growth of the pathogen Helicobacter pylori in the gastric acidic environment is ensured by the activity of urease, an enzyme containing two essential Ni2+ ions in the active site. The metallo-chaperone UreE facilitates in vivo Ni2+ insertion into the apoenzyme. Crystals of apo-HpUreE (H. pylori UreE) and its Ni2+- and Zn2+-bound forms were obtained from protein solutions in the absence and presence of the metal ions. The crystal structures of the homodimeric protein, determined at 2.00 Å (apo), 1.59 Å (Ni2+) and 2.52 Å (Zn2+) resolution, show the conserved proximal and solvent-exposed His102 residues from two adjacent monomers invariably involved in metal binding. The C-terminal regions of the apoprotein are disordered in the crystal, but acquire significant ordering in the presence of the metal ions due to the binding of His152. The analysis of X-ray absorption spectral data obtained using solutions of Ni2+- and Zn2+-bound HpUreE provided accurate information of the metal-ion environment in the absence of solid-state effects. These results reveal the role of the histidine residues at the protein C-terminus in metal-ion binding, and the mutual influence of protein framework and metal-ion stereo-electronic properties in establishing co-ordination number and geometry leading to metal selectivity.

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