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Replacement of the Distal Histidine Reveals a Noncanonical Heme Binding Site in a 2-on-2 Hemoglobin

Nye, Dillon B., Lecomte, Juliette T. J.
Biochemistry 2018 v.57 no.40 pp. 5785-5796
Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, absorption, binding sites, heme, heme proteins, hemoglobin, histidine, hydrophobicity, iron, leucine, ligands, models, mutagenesis, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, pH, spectral analysis
Heme ligation in hemoglobin is typically assumed by the “proximal” histidine. Hydrophobic contacts, ionic interactions, and the ligation bond secure the heme between two α-helices denoted E and F. Across the hemoglobin superfamily, several proteins also use a “distal” histidine, making the native state a bis-histidine complex. The group 1 truncated hemoglobin from Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, GlbN, is one such bis-histidine protein. Ferric GlbN, in which the distal histidine (His46 or E10) has been replaced with a leucine, though expected to bind a water molecule and yield a high-spin iron complex at neutral pH, has low-spin spectral properties. Here, we applied nuclear magnetic resonance and electronic absorption spectroscopic methods to GlbN modified with heme and amino acid replacements to identify the distal ligand in H46L GlbN. We found that His117, a residue located in the C-terminal portion of the protein and on the proximal side of the heme, is responsible for the formation of an alternative bis-histidine complex. Simultaneous coordination by His70 and His117 situates the heme in a binding site different from the canonical site. This new holoprotein form is achieved with only local conformational changes. Heme affinity in the alternative site is weaker than in the normal site, likely because of strained coordination and a reduced number of specific heme–protein interactions. The observation of an unconventional heme binding site has important implications for the interpretation of mutagenesis results and globin homology modeling.