Metal substitution of heme proteins is widely applied in the study of biologically relevant electron transfer (ET) reactions. It has been shown that many modified proteins remain in their native conformation and can provide useful insights into the molecular mechanism of electron transfer between the native protein and its substrates. We investigated ET reactions between zinc-substituted cytochrome P450 cam and small organic compounds such as quinones and ferrocene, which are capable of accessing the protein's hydrophobic channel and binding close to the active site, like its native substrate, camphor. Following the substitution method developed by Gunsalus and co-workers [Wagner, G. C., et al. (1981) J. Biol. Chem. 256, 6262-6265], we have identified two dominant forms of the zinc-substituted protein, F450 and F420, that exhibit different photophysical and photochemical properties. The ET behavior of F420 suggests that hydrophobic redox-active ligands are able to penetrate the hydrophobic channel and place themselves in the direct vicinity of the Zn-porphyrin. In contrast, the slower ET quenching rates observed in the case of F450 indicate that the association is weak and occurs outside of the protein channel. Therefore, we conclude that F420 corresponds to the open structure of the native cytochrome P450 cam while F450 has a closed or partially closed channel that is characteristic of the camphor-containing cytochrome P450 cam. The existence of two distinct conformers of Zn-bound P450 cam is consistent with the findings of Goodin and co-workers [Lee, Y.-T., et al. (2010) Biochemistry 49, 3412-3419] and has significant consequences for future electron transfer studies on this popular metalloenzyme.
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