Type 1 Cu proteins maintain a trigonal N2S coordination group (with weak axial ligation) in both oxidation states of the Cu2+(/)+ ion, thereby reducing the reorganization energy for electron transfer. Requirements for maintaining this coordination group were investigated in poplar plastocyanin (Pcy) by mutation of a conserved element of the type 1 architecture, an asparagine residue (Asn38) adjacent to one of the ligating histidines. The side chain of this asparagine forms an active site clasp via two H-bonds with the residue (Ser85) adjacent to the ligating cysteine (Cys84). In addition, the main chain NH of Asn38 donates an H-bond to the thiolate ligand. We have investigated the importance of these interactions by mutating Asn38 to Gln, Thr, and Leu. The mutant proteins are capable of folding and binding Cu2+, but the blue color fades; the rate of fading increases in the order Gln< Thr < Leu. The color is not restored by ferricyanide, showing that the protein is modified irreversibly, probably by oxidation of Cys84. The more stable mutants N38Q and N38T were characterized spectroscopically. The wild-type properties are slightly perturbed for N38Q, but N38T shows remarkable similarity to another type 1 Cu protein, azurin (Azu) from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The Cu-S(Cys) bond is longer in Azu than in Pcy, and the NH H- bond to the ligating S atom is shorter. Molecular modeling suggests a similar effect for N38T because the threonine residue shifts toward Ser85 in order to avoid a steric clash and to optimize H-bonding. These results demonstrate that H-bonding adjacent to the type 1 site stabilizes an architecture which both modulates the electronic properties of the Cu, and suppresses side reactions of the cysteine ligand.
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