In this review paper, we will give an overview of recent theoretical studies on the catalytic cycle(s) of NOS (nitric oxide synthase) enzymes and in particular on the later stages of these cycles where experimental work is difficult due to the short lifetime of intermediates. NOS enzymes are vital for human health and are involved in the biosynthesis of toxic nitric oxide. Despite many experimental efforts in the field, the catalytic cycle of this important enzyme is still surrounded by many unknowns and controversies. Our theoretical studies were focused on the grey zones of the catalytic cycle, where intermediates are short-lived and experimental detection is impossible. Thus combined QM/MM (quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics) as well as DFT (density functional theory) studies on NOS enzymes and active site models have established a novel mechanism of oxygen activation and the conversion of L-arginine into Nω-hydroxo-arginine. Although NOS enzymes show many structural similarities to cytochrome P450 enzymes, it has long been anticipated that therefore they should have a similar catalytic cycle where molecular oxygen binds to a haem centre and is converted into an Fe(IV)-oxo haem(+•) active species (Compound I). Compound I, however, is elusive in the cytochrome P450s as well as in NOS enzymes, but indirect experimental evidence on cytochrome P450 systems combined with theoretical modelling have shown it to be the oxidant responsible for hydroxylation reactions in cytochrome P450 enzymes. By contrast, in the first catalytic cycle of NOS it has been shown that Compound I is first reduced to Compound II before the hydroxylation of arginine. Furthermore, substrate arginine in NOS enzymes appears to have a dual function, namely first as a proton donor in the catalytic cycle to convert the ferric-superoxo into a ferric-hydroperoxo complex and secondly as the substrate that is hydroxylated in the process leading to Nω-hydroxo-arginine.

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