Structural models for the metal centers in the nitrogenase molybdenum-iron protein

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Science  18 Sep 1992:
Vol. 257, Issue 5077, pp. 1677-1682
DOI: 10.1126/science.1529354


Structural models for the nitrogenase FeMo-cofactor and P-clusters are proposed based on crystallographic analysis of the nitrogenase molybdenum-iron (MoFe)-protein from Azotobacter vinelandii at 2.7 angstrom resolution. Each center consists of two bridged clusters; the FeMo-cofactor has 4Fe:3S and 1Mo:3Fe:3S clusters bridged by three non-protein ligands, and the P-clusters contain two 4Fe:4S clusters bridged by two cysteine thiol ligands. Six of the seven Fe sites in the FeMo-cofactor appear to have trigonal coordination geometry, including one ligand provided by a bridging group. The remaining Fe site has tetrahedral geometry and is liganded to the side chain of Cys alpha 275. The Mo site exhibits approximate octahedral coordination geometry and is liganded by three sulfurs in the cofactor, two oxygens from homocitrate, and the imidazole side chain of His alpha 442. The P-clusters are liganded by six cysteine thiol groups, two which bridge the two clusters, alpha 88 and beta 95, and four which singly coordinate the remaining Fe sites, alpha 62, alpha 154, beta 70, and beta 153. The side chain of Ser beta 188 may also coordinate one iron. The polypeptide folds of the homologous alpha and beta subunits surrounding the P-clusters are approximately related by a twofold rotation that may be utilized in the binding interactions between the MoFe-protein and the nitrogenase Fe-protein. Neither the FeMo-cofactor nor the P-clusters are exposed to the surface, suggesting that substrate entry, electron transfer, and product release must involve a carefully regulated sequence of interactions between the MoFe-protein and Fe-protein of nitrogenase.