Phosphite dehydrogenase (PTDH) catalyzes the unusual oxidation of phosphite to phosphate with the concomitant reduction of NAD+ to NADH. PTDH shares significant amino acid sequence similarity with D-hydroxy acid dehydrogenases (DHs), including strongly conserved catalytic residues His292, Glu266, and Arg237. Site-directed mutagenesis studies corroborate the essential role of His292 as all mutants of this residue were completely inactive. Histidine-selective inactivation studies with diethyl pyrocarbonate provide further evidence regarding the importance of His292. This residue is most likely the active site base that deprotonates the water nucleophile. Kinetic analysis of mutants in which Arg237 was changed to Leu, Lys, His, and Gln revealed that Arg237 is involved in substrate binding. These results agree with the typical role of this residue in D-hydroxy acid DHs. However, Glu266 does not play the typical role of increasing the pKa of His292 to enhance substrate binding and catalysis as the Glu266Gln mutant displayed an increased k cat and unchanged pH-rate profile compared to those of wild-type PTDH. The role of Glu266 is likely the positioning of His292 and Arg237 with which it forms hydrogen bonds in a homology model. Homology modeling suggests that Lys76 may also be involved in substrate binding, and this postulate is supported by mutagenesis studies. All mutants of Lys76 display reduced activity with large effects on the Km for phosphite, and Lys76Cys could be chemically rescued by alkylation with 2-bromoethylamine. Whereas a positively charged residue is absolutely essential for activity at the position of Arg237, Lys76 mutants that lacked a positively charged side chain still had activity, indicating that it is less important for binding and catalysis. These results highlight the versatility of nature's catalytic scaffolds, as a common framework with modest changes allows PTDH to catalyze its unusual nucleophilic displacement reaction and D-hydroxy acid DHs to oxidize alcohols to ketones.
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