R67 dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) is a novel protein that possesses 222 symmetry. A single active site pore traverses the length of the homotetramer. Although the 222 symmetry implies that four symmetry-related binding sites should exist for each substrate as well as each cofactor, isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) studies indicate only two molecules bind. Three possible combinations include two dihydrofolate molecules, two NADPH molecules, or one substrate with one cofactor. The latter is the productive ternary complex. To evaluate the roles of A36, Y46, T51, G64, and V66 residues in binding and catalysis, a site-directed mutagenesis approach was employed. One mutation per gene produces four mutations per active site pore, which often result in large cumulative effects. Conservative mutations at these positions either eliminate the ability of the gene to confer trimethoprim resistance or have no effect on catalysis. This result, in conjunction with previous mutagenesis studies on K32, K33, S65, Q67, I68, and Y69 [Strader, M. B., et al. (2001) Biochemistry 40, 11344-11352; Hicks, S. N., et al. (2003) Biochemistry 42, 10569-10578; Park, H., et al. (1997) Protein Eng. 10, 1415-1424], allows mapping of the active site surface. Residues for which conservative mutations have large effects on binding and catalysis include K32, Q67, I68, and Y69. These residues form a stripe that establishes the ligand binding surface. Residues that accommodate conservative mutations that do not greatly affect catalysis include K33, Y46, T51, S65, and V66. Isothermal titration calorimetry studies were also conducted on many of the mutants described above to determine the enthalpy of folate binding to the R67 DHFR·NADPH complex. A linear correlation between this ΔH value and log kcat/Km is observed. Since structural tightness appears to be correlated with the exothermicity of the binding interaction, this leads to the hypothesis that enthalpy-driven formation of the ternary complex in these R67 DHFR variants plays a strong role in catalysis. Use of the alternate cofactor, NADH, extends this correlation, indicating preorganization of the ternary complex determines the efficiency of the reaction. This hypothesis is consistent with data suggesting R67 DHFR uses an endo transition state (where the nicotinamide ring of cofactor overlaps the more bulky side of the substrate's pteridine ring).
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