Phenylalanine hydroxylase (PheH), a liver enzyme that catalyzes the hydroxylation of excess phenylalanine in the diet to tyrosine, is activated by phenylalanine. The lack of activity at low levels of phenylalanine has been attributed to the N-terminus of the protein's regulatory domain acting as an inhibitory peptide by blocking substrate access to the active site. The location of the site at which phenylalanine binds to activate the enzyme is unknown, and both the active site in the catalytic domain and a separate site in the N-terminal regulatory domain have been proposed. Binding of catecholamines to the active-site iron was used to probe the accessibility of the active site. Removal of the regulatory domain increases the rate constants for association of several catecholamines with the wild-type enzyme by ∼2-fold. Binding of phenylalanine in the active site is effectively abolished by mutating the active-site residue Arg270 to lysine. The kcat/Kphe value is down 104 for the mutant enzyme, and the Km value for phenylalanine for the mutant enzyme is >0.5 M. Incubation of the R270K enzyme with phenylalanine also results in a 2-fold increase in the rate constants for catecholamine binding. The change in the tryptophan fluorescence emission spectrum seen in the wild-type enzyme upon activation by phenylalanine is also seen with the R270K mutant enzyme in the presence of phenylalanine. Both results establish that activation of PheH by phenylalanine does not require binding of the amino acid in the active site. This is consistent with a separate allosteric site, likely in the regulatory domain. (Chemical Equation Presented).
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