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Heme oxygenase (HO), from the pathogenic bacterium N. meningitidis(NmHO), which secures host iron, shares many properties with mammalian HOs but also exhibits some key differences. The crystal structure appears more compact, and the crystal-undetected C-terminus interacts with substrate in solution. The unique nature of substrate-protein, specifically pyrrole-I/II-helix-2, peripheral interactions in NmHO are probed by 2D 1H NMR to reveal unique structural features controlling substrate orientation. The thermodynamics of substrate orientational isomerism are mapped for substrates with individual vinyl → methyl → hydrogen substitutions and with enzyme C-terminal deletions. NmHO exhibits significantly stronger orientational preference, reflecting much stronger and selective pyrrole-I/II interactions with the protein matrix, than in mammalian HOs. Thus, replacing bulky vinyls with hydrogens results in a 180° rotation of substrate about the α,γ-meso axis in the active site. A "collapse" of the substrate pocket as substrate size decreases is reflected in movement of helix-2 toward the substrate as indicated by significant and selective increased NOESY cross-peak intensity, increase in steric Fe-CN tilt reflected in the orientation of the major magnetic axis, and decrease in steric constraints controlling the rate of aromatic ring reorientation. The active site of NmHO appears "stressed" for native protohemin, and its "collapse" upon replacing vinyls by hydrogen leads to a factor ∼10 2 increase in substrate affinity. Interaction of the C-terminus with the active site destabilizes the crystallographic protohemin orientation by ∼0.7 kcal/mol, which is consistent with optimizing the His207-Asp27 H-bond. Implications of the active site "stress" for product release are discussed. © 2011 American Chemical Society.

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