Cytochrome c oxidase uses the free energy of oxygen reduction to establish a transmembrane proton gradient. The proton-conducting D-channel in this enzyme is the major input pathway for protons which go to the binuclear center for water formation ("chemical protons") and likely the only input pathway for protons that get translocated across the lipid membrane ("pumped protons")- The D-channel starts at an acidic residue near the protein surface (D132, Rhodobacter sphaeroides numbering) and leads to another acidic residue near the binuclear center. Recent studies have shown that mutants that introduce an additional acidic residue in the channel (N139D) have the remarkable effect of accelerating steady-state oxidase activity but completely eliminating proton pumping. In this work, an aspartic acid was introduced at the position of glycine 204, G204D, which is also within the D-channel, and the effects were examined. In contrast to N139D, the G204D mutation results in a dramatic decrease of the steady-state oxygen reductase activity (<2% of wild type) [Aagaard, A., and Brzezinski, P. (2001) FEBS Lett. 494, 157-160]. The residual activity is not coupled to the proton pump, and furthermore, in reconstituted vesicles the mutant enzyme exhibits a reverse respiration control ratio; i.e., the mutant oxidase activity is stimulated rather than inhibited when working against a protonmotive force. Hence, the mutant behaves very much like the D132N, which blocks proton uptake through the D-channel. Single-turnover experiments show that the rate-limiting step in the reaction of O2 with the fully reduced G204D mutant is the F → O transition, similar to the D132N mutant. The block of the D-channel in the D132N mutant can be partly bypassed by biochemically removing subunit III from the enzyme, indicating that removal of the subunit reveals an alternate entrance for protons to the channel. However, this is not observed with the G204D mutant. This suggests that the cryptic entrance to the D-channel that is revealed by the removal of subunit III is between the levels of G204 and D132.
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