Site-directed mutagenesis is a powerful tool for identifying active-site residues essential for catalysis; however, this approach has only recently become available for acetate kinase. The enzyme from Methanosarcina thermophila has been cloned and hyper-produced in a highly active form in Escherichia coli (recombinant wild-type). The role of arginines in this acetate kinase was investigated. Five arginines (R91, R175, R241, R285, and R340) in the M. thermophila enzyme were selected for individual replacement based on their high conservation among sequences of acetate kinase homologues. Replacement of R91 or R241 with alanine or leucine produced variants with specific activities less than 0.1% of the recombinant wild-type enzyme. The circular dichroism spectra and other properties of these variants were comparable to those of recombinant wild-type, indicating no global conformational changes. These results indicate that R91 and R241 are essential for activity, consistent with roles in catalysis. The variant produced by conservative replacement of R91 with lysine had approximately 2% of recombinant wild-type activity, suggesting a positive charge is important in this position. The K(m) value for acetate of the R91K variant increased greater than 10-fold relative to recombinant wild-type, suggesting an additional role for R91 in binding this substrate. Activities of both the R91A and R241A variants were rescued 20-fold when guanidine or derivatives were added to the reaction mixture. The K(m) values for ATP of the rescued variants were similar to those of recombinant wild-type, suggesting that the rescued activities are the consequence of replacement of important functional groups and not changes in the catalytic mechanism. These results further support roles for R91 and R241 in catalysis. Replacement of R285 with alanine, leucine, or lysine had no significant effect on activity; however, the K(m) values for acetate increased 6-10-fold, suggesting R285 influences the binding of this substrate. Phenylglyoxal inhibition and substrate protection experiments with the recombinant wild-type enzyme and variants were consistent with the presence of one or more essential arginine residues in the active site as well as with roles for R91 and R241 in catalysis. It is proposed that R91 and R241 function to stabilize the previously proposed pentacoordinate transition state during direct in-line transfer of the γ- phosphate of ATP to acetate. The kinetic characterization of variants produced by replacement of R175 and R340 with alanine, leucine, or lysine indicated that these residues are not involved in catalysis but fulfill important structural roles.
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