Heme oxygenases from the bacterial pathogens Neisseriae meningitidis (nm-HO) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (pa-HO) share significant sequence identity (37%). In nm-HO, biliverdin IXα is the sole product of the reaction, whereas pa-HO yields predominantly biliverdin IXδ. We have previously shown by NMR that the in-plane conformation of the heme in pa-HO is significantly different from that of nm-HO as a result of distinct interactions of the heme propionates with the protein scaffold [Caignan, G. A., Deshmukh, R., Wilks, A., Zeng, Y., Huang, H. W., Moenne-Loccoz, P., Bunce, R. A., Eastman, M. A., and Rivera, M. (2002) J. Am. Chem. Soc. 124, 14879-14892]. In the report presented here, we have extended these studies to investigate the role of the distal helix by preparing a chimera of nm-HO (nm-HOch), in which distal helix residues 107-142 of nm-HO have been replaced with the corresponding residues of the δ-regioselective pa-HO (112-147). Electronic absorption spectra, resonance Raman and FTIR spectroscopic studies confirm that the orientation and hydrogen bonding properties of the proximal His ligand are not significantly altered in the chimera relative those of the wild-type proteins. The catalytic turnover of the nm-HOch-heme complex yields almost exclusively α-biliverdin and a small but reproducible amount of δ-biliverdin. NMR spectroscopic studies reveal that the altered regioselectivity in the chimeric protein likely stems from a dynamic equilibrium between two alternate in-plane conformations of the heme (in-plane heme disorder). Replacement of K16 with Ala and Met31 with Lys in the chimeric protein in an effort to tune key polypeptide-heme propionate contacts largely stabilizes the in-plane conformer conducive to δ-meso hydroxylation.
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