Structure of horse carbonmonoxyhaemoglobin

Elizabeth J. Heidner, R. C. Ladner, M. F. Perutz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

196 Scopus citations


The structure is based on a difference Fourier synthesis at 2.8 Å resolution, using observed structure amplitudes and calculated phases, derived from a refinement of horse methaemoglobin at 2.0 Å resolution. Carbonmonoxyhaemoglobin has the same quaternary structure as methaemoglobin, but differs from it by slight changes in tertiary structure in the immediate vicinity of the haems. On transition from met- to carbonmonoxyhaemoglobin the distal histidines move away from the haem ligands towards the molecular surface, and both the haems and F-helices rotate slightly and shift towards the distal side. In methaemoglobin the sulphydryl group of cysteine F9(93)β is in equilibrium between two alternative positions: one external and the other half-buried in the "tyrosine pocket" between helices F and H. In carbonmonoxyhaemoglobin all the electron density for the sulphydryl group is in the half-buried position, so that the side chain of tyrosine HC2(145)β is completely displaced from its pocket. The difference map shows that the CO oxygen lies off the haem axis in both subunits, but the carbon cannot be seen as it coincides with the water molecule in methaemoglobin. A preliminary refinement of carbonmonoxyhaemoglobin suggests that the carbon may be displaced from the haem axis in the same direction as the oxygen. The haem pocket is so constructed that it fits an oxygen molecule in the bent conformation, but not a CO molecule which has its axis normal to the haem plane, because of steric hindrance by Nε{lunate} of the distal histidine and by Cγ2 of the distal valine. These two side chains apparently push the CO oxygen off the haem axis. The difference map indicates that in methaemoglobin the α-haem is ruffled and that on transition from met- to carbonmonoxyhaemoglobin it becomes flattened; in the β-haem the iron appears to move towards the porphyrin plane. The resolution is not sufficient to determine the exact position of the iron atoms and the proximal histidines relative to the porphyrins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)707-722
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 5 1976

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology


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