The Enterococcus hirae CopB ATPase (EC confers copper resistance to the organism by expelling excess copper. Two related human ATPase genes, ATP7A (EC and ATP7B (EC, have been cloned as the loci of mutations causing Menkes and Wilson diseases, diseases of copper metabolism. Many mutations in these genes have been identified in patients. Since it has not yet been possible to purify the human copper ATPases, it has proved difficult to test the impact of mutations on ATPase function. Some mutations occur in highly conserved sequence motifs, suggesting that their effect on function can be tested with a homologous enzyme. Here, we used the E. hirae CopB ATPase to investigate the impact of such mutations on enzyme function in vivo and in vitro. The Menkes disease mutation of Cys-1000 → Arg, changing the conserved Cys-Pro-Cys (‘CPC’) motif, was mimicked in CopB. The corresponding Cys-396 → Ser CopB ATPase was unable to restore copper resistance in a CopB knock-out mutant in vivo. The purified mutant ATPase still formed an acylphosphate intermediate, but possessed no detectable ATP hydrolytic activity. The most frequent Wilson disease mutation, His-1069 → Gln, was introduced into CopB as His-480 → Gln (H480Q). This mutant CopB also failed to confer copper resistance to a CopB knock-out strain. Purified H480Q CopB formed an acylphosphate intermediate and retained a small, but significant, ATPase activity. Our results reveal that Cys-396 and His-480 of CopB are key residues for ATPase function, and similar roles are suggested for Cys-1000 and His-1069 of Menkes and Wilson ATPases respectively.

Abbreviations used: CCD, charge-coupled-device; C1000R, C396S, H1069Q and H480Q, Cys-1000 → Arg, Cys-396 → Ser, His-1069 → Gln and His-480 → Gln site-directed mutations respectively; Ni-NTA, Ni2+-nitrilotriacetate.

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Author notes


This paper is dedicated to the memory of Walter Beuggert, with appreciation for his contribution to research.