Carbon monoxide is an intermediate in carbon dioxide fixation by diverse microbes that inhabit anaerobic environments including the human colon. These organisms fix CO2 by the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway of acetyl-CoA biosynthesis. The bifunctional CO dehydrogenase/acetyl-CoA synthase (CODH/ACS) catalyzes several key steps in this pathway. CO2 is reduced to CO at a nickel iron- sulfur cluster called cluster C located in the CODH subunit. Then, CO is condensed with a methyl group and coenzyme A at cluster A, another nickel iron-sulfur cluster in the ACS subunit. Spectroscopic studies indicate that clusters A and C are at least 10-15 Å apart. To gain a better understanding of how CO production and utilization are coordinated, we have studied an isotopic exchange reaction between labeled CO2 and the carbonyl group of acetyl-CoA with the CODH/ACS from Clostridium thermoaceticum. When solution CO is provided at saturating levels, only CO2-derived CO is incorporated into the carbonyl group of acetyl-CoA. Furthermore, when high levels of hemoglobin or myoglobin are added to remove CO from solution, there is only partial inhibition of the incorporation of CO2-derived CO into acetyl-CoA. These results provide strong evidence for the existence of a CO channel between cluster C in the CODH subunit and cluster A in the ACS subunit. The existence of such a channel would tightly couple CO production and utilization and help explain why high levels of this toxic gas do not escape into the environment. Instead, microbes sequester this energy-rich carbon source for metabolic reactions.
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