Nitric oxide synthase (EC 1.14.13.39) catalyses the conversion of arginine, NADPH and oxygen to nitric oxide and citrulline, using haem, (6R)-5,6,7,8-tetrahydro-L-biopterin (tetrahydrobiopterin), calmodulin, FAD and FMN as cofactors. The enzyme consists of a central calmodulin-binding sequence flanked on the N-terminal side by a haem-binding region that contains the arginine and tetrahydrobiopterin sites and on the C-terminal side by a region homologous with NADPH:cytochrome P-450 reductase. By using domain boundaries defined by limited proteolysis of full-length enzyme, recombinant haem-binding regions of rat brain neuronal nitric oxide synthase were expressed and purified. Two proteins were made in high yield: one, corresponding to residues 221-724, contained bound haem and tetrahydrobiopterin and was able to bind Nω-nitro-l-arginine (nitroarginine) or arginine; the other, containing residues 350-724, contained bound haem but was unable to bind tetrahydrobiopterin, nitroarginine or arginine. These results showed that rat brain neuronal nitric oxide synthase contains a critical determinant for arginine/tetrahydrobiopterin binding between residues 221 and 350. Limited proteolysis with chymotrypsin of the former protein resulted in a new species with an N-terminal residue 275 that retained the ability to bind nitroarginine, further defining the critical region for arginine binding as being between 275 and 350. Comparison of the sequences of nitric oxide synthase and the tetrahydrobiopterin-requiring amino acid hydroxylases revealed a similarity in the region between residues 470 and 600, suggesting that this might represent the core region of the pterin-binding site. The stoichiometries of binding of substrate and cofactors to the recombinant domains were not more than 0.5 mol/mol of monomer, suggesting that there might be a single high-affinity site per dimer.

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