Conditions have been established where the deactivation of the beta-lactamase from Staphylococcus aureus PC1 by the penicillin substrate, quinacillin, is close to complete but fully reversible. The temperature-dependence of the rate of re-activation indicated a half-life of about 170 min for the deactivated state at 0 degrees C. Measurement of the relative viscosity of mixtures of enzyme and quinacillin at 8.4 degrees C ruled out any significant difference in shape or solvation between the deactivated and the normal enzyme. C.d. measurements of the deactivated protein, separated from excess quinacillin, showed that the quinacillin side-chain chromophore was bound in an asymmetric environment. The ellipticity associated with the bound quinacillin chromophore decreased with the same first-order rate constant as that for reappearance of enzyme activity. These findings support the accumulation of a deactivated state that contains bound quinacillin or a derivative. Quinacillin caused a 3-fold increase in the rate of 3H exchange-out (at a rate that was low compared with that for the substantially unfolded or expanded protein). However, there was rapid exchange-out of about 50 3H atoms on addition of 1 M-urea to the deactivated enzyme, whereas the same concentration had no effect on the exchange-out of 3H from native enzyme. The interpretation that quinacillin increases the susceptibility of the native state to unfolding in the presence of urea is supported by the demonstration that SO4(2)- ions decreased the rate and extent of deactivation but had no effect on the rate of re-activation, as predicted from the observation that SO4(2)- ions, in competition with urea, stabilize the native state relative to the partially unfolded state H [Mitchinson & Pain (1985) J. Mol. Biol. 184, 331-342].

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