Nitric oxide synthase (NOS) generates NO via a sequential two-step reaction [L-arginine (L-Arg) → N-hydroxy-L-arginine (NOHA) → L-citrulline + NO]. Each step of the reaction follows a distinct mechanism defined by the chemical environment introduced by each substrate bound to the heme active site. The dioxygen complex of the NOS enzyme from a thermophilic bacterium, Geobacillus stearothermophilus (gsNOS), is unusually stable; hence, it provides a unique model for the studies of the mechanistic differences between the two steps of the NOS reaction. By using CO as a structural probe, we found that gsNOS exhibits two conformations in the absence of substrate, as indicated by the presence of two sets of νFe-CO/νC-O modes in the resonance Raman spectra. In the νFe-CO versus νC-O inverse correlation plot, one set of data falls on the correlation line characterized by mammalian NOSs (mNOS), whereas the other set of data lies on a new correlation line defined by a bacterial NOS from Bacillus subtilis (bsNOS), reflecting a difference in the proximal Fe-Cys bond strength in the two conformers of gsNOS. The addition of L-Arg stabilizes the conformer associated with the mNOS correlation line, whereas NOHA stabilizes the conformer associated with the bsNOS correlation line, although both substrates introduce a positive electrostatic potential into the distal heme pocket. To assess how substrate binding affects Fe-Cys bond strength, the frequency of the Fe-Cys stretching mode of gsNOS was monitored by resonance Raman spectroscopy with 363.8 nm excitation. In the substrate-free form, the Fe-Cys stretching mode was detected at 342.5 cm-1, similar to that of bsNOS. The binding of L-Arg and NOHA brings about a small decrease and increase in the Fe-Cys stretching frequency, respectively. The implication of these unique structural features with respect to the oxygen chemistry of NOS is discussed.
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