The X-ray crystal structure of carbamoyl phosphate synthetase (CPS) from Escherichia coli has unveiled the existence of two molecular tunnels within the heterodimeric enzyme. These two interdomain tunnels connect the three distinct active sites within this remarkably complex protein and apparently function as conduits for the transport of unstable reaction intermediates between successive active sites. The operational significance of the ammonia tunnel for the migration of NH3 is supported experimentally by isotope competition and protein modification. The passage of carbamate through the carbamate tunnel has now been assessed by the insertion of site-directed structural blockages within this tunnel. Gln-22, Ala-23, and Gly-575 from the large subunit of CPS were substituted by mutagenesis with bulkier amino acids in an attempt to obstruct and/or hinder the passage of the unstable intermediate through the carbamate tunnel. The structurally modified proteins G575L, A23L/G575S, and A23L/G575L exhibited a substantially reduced rate of carbamoyl phosphate synthesis, but the rate of ATP turnover and glutamine hydrolysis was not significantly altered. These data are consistent with a model for the catalytic mechanism of CPS that requires the diffusion of carbamate through the interior of the enzyme from the site of synthesis within the N-terminal domain of the large subunit to the site of phosphorylation within the C-terminal domain. The partial reactions of CPS have not been significantly impaired by these mutations, and thus, the catalytic machinery at the individual active sites has not been functionally perturbed.
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