The molecular mechanism by which proton pumping is coupled to electron transfer in cytochrome c oxidase has not yet been determined. However, several models of this process have been proposed which are based on changes occurring in the vicinity of the redox centers of the enzyme. Recently, a model was described in which a well-conserved tyrosine residue in subunit I (Y422) was proposed to undergo ligand exchange with the histidine ligand (H419) of the high-spin heme a3 during the catalytic cycle. allowing both residues to serve as part of a proton transporting system. Site-directed mutants of Y422 have been constructed in the aa3-type cytochrome c oxidase of Rhodobacter sphaeroides to test this hypothesis (Y422A, Y422F). The results demonstrate that Y422 is not an essential residue in the electron transfer and proton pumping mechanisms of cytochrome c oxidase. However, the results support the predicted proximity of Y422 to heme a3, as now confirmed by crystal structure. In addition, it is shown that the pH-dependent reversed electron transfer between heme a and heme a3 is normal in the Y422F mutant. Hence, these data also demonstrate that Y422 is not the residue previously postulated to interact electrostatically with heme a3, nor is it responsible for the unique EPR characteristics of heme a in this bacterial oxidase.
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