By removing one of the hydrogen-bond donors in the oxyanion hole of subtilisin BPN, we have been able to determine how it affects the catalytic efficiency of the enzyme and the pKa of the oxyanion formed in a choloromethane inhibitor derivative. Variant 8397 of subtilisin BPN contains five mutations which enhance its stability. Site-directed mutagenesis was used to prepare the N155A mutant of this variant. The catalytic efficiencies of wild-type and variant 8397 are similar, but replacing Asn-155 with alanine reduces catalytic efficiency approx. 300-fold. All three forms of subtilisin were alkylated using benzyloxycarbonylglycylglycyl[2-13C]phenylalanylchloromethane and examined by 13C-NMR. A single signal due to the 13C-enriched carbon was detected in all the derivatives and it was assigned to the hemiketal carbon of a tetrahedral adduct formed between the hydroxy group of Ser-221 and the inhibitor. This signal had chemical shifts in the range 98.3–103.6 p.p.m., depending on the pH. The titration shift of 4.7–4.8 p.p.m. was assigned to oxyanion formation. The oxyanion pKa values in the wild-type and 8397 variants were 6.92 and 7.00 respectively. In the N155A mutant of the 8397 variant the oxyanion pKa increased to 8.09. We explain why such a small increase is observed and we conclude that it is the interaction between the oxyanion and the imidazolium cation of the active-site histidine that is the main factor responsible for lowering the oxyanion pKa.

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Author notes


Present address: National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, U.S.A.