Carbamoyl phosphate synthetase (CPS) from Escherichia coli consists of a small subunit (∼42 kDa) and a large subunit (∼118 kDa) and catalyzes the biosynthesis of carbamoyl phosphate from MgATP, bicarbonate, and glutamine. The enzyme is able to utilize external ammonia as an alternative nitrogen source when glutamine is absent. CPS contains an internal molecular tunnel, which has been proposed to facilitate the translocation of reaction intermediates from one active site to another. Ammonia, the product from the hydrolysis of glutamine in the small subunit, is apparently transported to the next active site in the large subunit of CPS over a distance of about 45 Å. The ammonia tunnel that connects these two active sites provides a direct path for the guided diffusion of ammonia and protection from protonation. Molecular damage to the ammonia tunnel was conducted in an attempt to induce leakage of ammonia directly to the protein exterior by the creation of a perforation in the tunnel wall. A hole in the tunnel wall was made by mutation of integral amino acid residues with alanine residues. The triple mutant αP360A/αH361A/βR265A was unable to utilize glutamine for the synthesis of carbamoyl phosphate. However, the mutant enzyme retained full catalytic activity when external ammonia was used as the nitrogen source. The synchronization of the partial reactions occurring at the three active sites observed with the wild-type CPS was seriously disrupted with the mutant enzyme when glutamine was used as a nitrogen source. Overall, the catalytic constants of the mutant were consistent with the model where the channeling of ammonia has been disrupted due to the leakage from the ammonia tunnel to the protein exterior.
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