Tyrosine hydroxylase catalyzes the formation of dihydroxyphenylalanine from tyrosine, utilizing a tetrahydropterin and molecular oxygen as cosubstrates. Several approaches were taken to examining the identity of the rate-limiting step in catalysis. Steady-state kinetic parameters were determined with a series of ring-substituted phenylalanines. The Vmax value was unchanged with substrates ranging in reactivity from tyrosine to 4-fiuorophenylalanine. Neither 4-pyridylalanine N-oxide, a model of tyrosine phenoxide, nor 4-hydroxy-3-pyridylalanine N-oxide or α-amino-3-hydroxy-4-pyridone-1 -propionic acid, models of a hydroxycyclohexadienone intermediate, was an effective inhibitor. There was no solvent isotope effect on either the Vmax or the V/KTyr value. These results establish that no chemistry occurs at the amino acid in the rate-limiting step and no exchangeable proton is in flight in the rate-limiting step. The results are consistent with a model in which the slow step in catalysis is formation of the hydroxylating intermediate.
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