Galactose oxidase is a remarkable enzyme containing a metalloradical redox cofactor capable of oxidizing a variety of primary alcohols during enzyme turnover. Recent studies using 1-O-methyl α-D-galactopyranoside have revealed an unusually large kinetic isotope effect (KIE) for oxidation of the α-deuterated alcohol (kH/kD = 22), demonstrating that cleavage of the 6,6′-di[2H]hydroxymethylene C-H bond is fully rate-limiting for oxidation of the canonical substrate. This step is believed to involve hydrogen atom transfer to the tyrosyl phenoxyl in a radical redox mechanism for catalysis [Whittaker, M. M., Ballou, D. P., and Whittaker, J. W. (1998) Biochemistry 37, 8426-8436]. In the work presented here, the enzyme's unusually broad substrate specificity has allowed us to extend these investigations to a homologous series of benzyl alcohol derivatives, in which remote (meta or para) substituents are used to systematically perturb the properties of the hydroxyl group undergoing oxidation. Quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) correlations over the steady state rate data reveal a shift in the character of the transition state for substrate oxidation over this series, reflected in a change in the magnitude of the observed KIE for these reactions. The observed KIE values have been shown to obey a log-linear correlation over the substituent parameter, Hammett σ. For the relatively difficult to oxidize nitro derivative, the KIE is large (kH/kD = 12.3), implying rate-limiting C-H bond cleavage for the oxidation reaction. This contribution becomes less important for more easily oxidized substrates (e.g., methoxy derivatives) where a much smaller KIE is observed (kH/kD = 3.6). Conversely, the solvent deuterium KIE is vanishingly small for 4-nitrobenzyl alcohol, but becomes significant for the 4-methoxy derivative (kH2O/kD2O = 1.2). These experiments have allowed us to develop a reaction profile for substrate oxidation by galactose oxidase, consisting of three components (hydroxylic proton transfer, electron transfer, and hydrogen atom transfer) comprising a single-step proton-coupled electron transfer mechanism. Each component exhibits a distinct substituent and isotope sensitivity, allowing them to be identified kinetically. The proton transfer component is unique in being sensitive to the isotopic character of the solvent (H2O or D2O), while hydrogen atom transfer (C-H bond cleavage) is independent of solvent composition but is sensitive to substrate labeling. In contrast, electron transfer processes will in general be less sensitive to isotopic substitution. Our results support a mechanism in which initial proton abstraction from a coordinated substrate activates the alcohol toward inner sphere electron transfer to the Cu(II) metal center in an unfavorable redox equilibrium, forming an alkoxy radical which undergoes hydrogen atom abstraction by the tyrosine-cysteine phenoxyl free radical ligand to form the product aldehyde.
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