Protein engineering of toluene 4-monooxygenase of Pseudomonas mendocina KR1 for synthesizing 4-nitrocatechol from nitrobenzene

Ayelet Fishman, Ying Tao, William E. Bentley, Thomas K. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


After discovering that toluene 4-monooxygenase (T4MO) of Pseudomonas mendocina KR1 oxidizes nitrobenzene to 4-nitrocatechol, albeit at a very low rate, this reaction was improved using directed evolution and saturation mutagenesis. Screening 550 colonies from a random mutagenesis library generated by error-prone PCR of tmoAB using Escherichia coli TG1/pBS(Kan)T4MO on agar plates containing nitrobenzene led to the discovery of nitrocatechol-producing mutants. One mutant, NB1, contained six amino acid substitutions (TmoA Y22N, 184Y, S95T, I100S, S400C; TmoB D79N). It was believed that position I100 of the α subunit of the hydroxylase (TmoA) is the most significant for the change in substrate reactivity due to previous results in our lab with a similar enzyme, toluene ortho-monooxygenase of Burkholderia cepacia G4. Saturation mutagenesis at this position resulted in the generation of two more nitrocatechol mutants, I100A and I100S; the rate of 4-nitrocatechol formation by I100A was more than 16 times higher than that of wild-type T4MO at 200 μM nitrobenzene (0.13 ± 0.01 vs. 0.008 ± 0.001 nmol/min·mg protein). HPLC and mass spectrometry analysis revealed that variants NB1, I100A, and I100S produce 4-nitrocatechol via m-nitrophenol, while the wild-type produces primarily p-nitrophenol and negligible amounts of nitrocatechol. Relative to wild-type T4MO, whole cells expressing variant I100A convert nitrobenzene into m-nitrophenol with a Vmax of 0.61 ± 0.037 vs. 0.16 ± 0.071 nmol/min·mg protein and convert m-nitrophenol into nitrocatechol with a Vmax of 3.93 ± 0.26 vs. 0.58 ± 0.033 nmol/min·mg protein. Hence, the regiospecificity of nitrobenzene oxidation was changed by the random mutagenesis, and this led to a significant increase in 4-nitrocatechol production. The regiospecificity of toluene oxidation was also altered, and all of the mutants produced 20% m-cresol and 80% p-cresol, while the wild-type produces 96% p-cresol. Interestingly, the rate of toluene oxidation (the natural substrate of the enzyme) by I100A was also higher by 65% (7.2 ± 1.2 vs. 4.4 ± 0.3 nmol/min·mg protein). Homology-based modeling of TmoA suggests reducing the size of the side chain of I100 leads to an increase in the width of the active site channel, which facilitates access of substrates and promotes more flexible orientations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-790
Number of pages12
JournalBiotechnology and bioengineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 20 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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