D(–)-Mandelate dehydrogenase, the first enzyme of the mandelate pathway in the yeast Rhodotorula graminis, catalyses the NAD(+)-dependent oxidation of D(–)-mandelate to phenylglyoxylate. D(–)-2-(Bromoethanoyloxy)-2-phenylethanoic acid [‘D(–)-bromoacetylmandelic acid’], an analogue of the natural substrate, was synthesized as a probe for reactive and accessible nucleophilic groups within the active site of the enzyme. D(–)-Mandelate dehydrogenase was inactivated by D(–)-bromoacetylmandelate in a psuedo-first-order process. D(–)-Mandelate protected against inactivation, suggesting that the residue that reacts with the inhibitor is located at or near the active site. Complete inactivation of the enzyme resulted in the incorporation of approx. 1 mol of label/mol of enzyme subunit. D(–)-Mandelate dehydrogenase that had been inactivated with 14C-labelled D(–)-bromoacetylmandelate was digested with trypsin; there was substantial incorporation of 14C into two tryptic-digest peptides, and this was lowered in the presence of substrate. One of the tryptic peptides had the sequence Val-Xaa-Leu-Glu-Ile-Gly-Lys, with the residue at the second position being the site of radiolabel incorporation. The complete sequence of the second peptide was not determined, but it was probably an N-terminally extended version of the first peptide. High-voltage electrophoresis of the products of hydrolysis of modified protein showed that the major peak of radioactivity co-migrated with N tau-carboxymethylhistidine, indicating that a histidine residue at the active site of the enzyme is the most likely nucleophile with which D(–)-bromoacetylmandelate reacts. D(–)-Mandelate dehydrogenase was incubated with phenylglyoxylate and either (4S)-[4-3H]NADH or (4R)-[4-3H]NADH and then the resulting D(–)-mandelate and NAD+ were isolated. The enzyme transferred the pro-R-hydrogen atom from NADH during the reduction of phenylglyoxylate. The results are discussed with particular reference to the possibility that this enzyme evolved by the recruitment of a 2-hydroxy acid dehydrogenase from another metabolic pathway.

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