The Escherichia coli class Ia ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) achieves forward and reverse proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) over a pathway of redox active amino acids (β-Y122 ⇌ β-Y356 ⇌ α-Y731 ⇌ α-Y730 ⇌ α-C439) spanning ∼35 Å and two subunits every time it turns over. We have developed photoRNRs that allow radical transport to be phototriggered at tyrosine (Y) or fluorotyrosine (FnY) residues along the PCET pathway. We now report a new photoRNR in which photooxidation of a tryptophan (W) residue replacing Y356 within the α/β subunit interface proceeds by a stepwise ET/PT (electron transfer then proton transfer) mechanism and provides an orthogonal spectroscopic handle with respect to radical pathway residues Y731 and Y730 in α. This construct displays an ∼3-fold enhancement in photochemical yield of W• relative to F3Y• and a ∼7-fold enhancement relative to Y•. Photogeneration of the W• radical occurs with a rate constant of (4.4 ± 0.2) × 105 s-1, which obeys a Marcus correlation for radical generation at the RNR subunit interface. Despite the fact that the Y → W variant displays no enzymatic activity in the absence of light, photogeneration of W• within the subunit interface results in 20% activity for turnover relative to wild-type RNR under the same conditions.
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