Cytochrome P-450 CYP2D6, human debrisoquine hydroxylase, metabolizes more than 30 prescribed drugs, the vast majority of which are small molecules containing a basic nitrogen atom. In contrast, the similar mouse protein Cyp2d-9 was first characterized as a testosterone 16α-hydroxylase. No common substrates have been reported for the two enzymes. Here we investigate the structural basis of this difference in substrate specificity. We have earlier used a combination of NMR data and homology modelling to generate a three-dimensional model of CYP2D6 [Modi, Paine, Sutcliffe, Lian, Primrose, Wolf, C. R. and Roberts (1996) Biochemistry 35, 4541–4550]. We have now generated a homology model of Cyp2d-9 and compared the two models to identify specific amino acid residues that we believe form the substrate-binding site in each protein and therefore influence catalytic selectivity. Although there are many similarities in active site structure, the most notable difference is a phenylalanine residue (Phe-483) in CYP2D6, which in the model is located such that the bulky phenyl ring is positioned across the channel mouth, thus limiting the size of substrate that can access the active site. In Cyp2d-9, the corresponding position is occupied by an isoleucine residue, which imposes fewer steric restraints on the size of substrate that can access the active site. To investigate whether the amino acid residue at this position does indeed influence the catalytic selectivity of these enzymes, site-directed mutagenesis was used to change Phe-483 in CYP2D6 to isoleucine and also to tryptophan. CYP2D6, Cyp2d-9 and both mutant CYP2D6 proteins were co-expressed with NADPH cytochrome P-450 reductase as a functional mono-oxygenase system in Escherichia coliand their relative catalytic activities towards bufuralol and testosterone were determined. All four proteins exhibited catalytic activity towards bufuralol but only Cyp2d-9 catalysed the formation of 16α-hydroxytesterone. Uniquely, the CYP2D6F483I mutant acquired the ability to metabolize testosterone to a novel product, which was identified by MS and proton NMR spectroscopy as 15α-hydroxytestosterone. NMR spin relaxation experiments were used to measure distances between the haem iron and protons of testosterone bound to the CYP2D6F483I mutant. These experiments demonstrate that very minor modifications to the active site structure of CYP2D6 can have a profound influence on the substrate specificity of the enzyme.

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