The methyltetrahydrofolate:corrinoid/iron-sulfur protein methyltransferase (MeTr) from Clostridium thermoacetium catalyzes transfer of the N5-methyl group of (6S)-methyltetrahydrofolate (CH3H4folate) to the cob(I)amide center of a corrinoid/iron-sulfur protein (CFeSP), forming H4folate and methylcob(III)amide. We have investigated binding of 13C- enriched (6R, S)-CH3-H4folate and (6R)-CH3H4folate to MeTr by 13C NMR, equilibrium dialysis, fluorescence quenching, and proton uptake experiments. The results described here and in the accompanying paper [Seravalli, J., Shoemaker, R. K., Sudbeck, M. J., and Ragsdale, S. W. (1999) Biochemistry 38, 5728-5735] constitute the first evidence for protonation of the pterin ring of CH3-H4folate. The pH dependence of the chemical shift in the 13C NMR spectrum for the N5-methyl resonance indicates that MeTr decreases the acidity of the N5 tertiary amine of CH3H4folate by 1 pK unit in both water and deuterium oxide. Binding of (6R, S)-CH3H4folate is accompanied by the uptake of one proton. These results are consistent with a mechanism of activation of CH3-H4folate by protonation to make the methyl group more electrophilic and the product H4folate a better leaving group toward nucleophilic attack by cob(I)amide. When MeTr is present in excess over (6R,S)-13CH3H4folate, the 13C NMR signal is split into two broad signals that reflect the bound states of the two diastereomers. This unexpected ability of MeTr to bind both isomers was confirmed by the observation of MeTr-bound (6R)-13CH3-H4folate by NMR and by the measurement of similar dissociation constants for (6R)- and (6S)-CH3- H4folate diastereomers by fluorescence quenching experiments. The transversal relaxation time (T2) of 13CH3-H4folate bound to MeTr is pH independent between pH 5.50 and 7.0, indicating that neither changes in the protonation state of bound CH3-H4folate nor the previously observed pH- dependent MeTr conformational change contribute to broadening of the 13C resonance signal. The dissociation constant for (6R,S)-CH3-H4folate is also pH independent, indicating that the role of the pH-dependent conformational change is to stabilize the transition state for methyl transfer, and not to favor the binding of CH3-H4folate.
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