(S)-Mandelate dehydrogenase (MDH) from Pseudomonas putida is a flavin mononucleotide (FMN)-dependent enzyme that oxidizes (S)-mandelate to benzoylformate. In this work, we show that the ethyl and methyl esters of (S)-mandelic acid are substrates for MDH. Although the binding affinity of the neutral esters is 25-50-fold lower relative to the negatively charged (S)-mandelate, they are oxidized with comparable k(cat)s. Substrate analogues in which the carbonyl group on the C-1 carbon is replaced by other electron-withdrawing groups were not substrates. The requirement of a carbonyl group on the C-1 carbon in a substrate suggests that the negative charge developed during the reaction is stabilized by delocalization to the carbonyl oxygen. Arg277, a residue that is important in both binding and transition state stabilization for the activity with (S)-mandelate, is also critical for transition state stabilization for the esters, but not for their binding affinity. We previously showed that the substrate oxidation half-reaction with (S)-mandelate has two rate-limiting steps of similar activation energies and proceeds through the formation of a charge-transfer complex of an electron-rich donor and oxidized FMN [Dewanti, A. R., and Mitra, B. (2003) Biochemistry 42, 12893-12901]. This charge-transfer intermediate was observed with the neutral esters as well. The observation of this electron-rich intermediate for the oxidation of an uncharged substrate to an uncharged product, as well as the critical role of Arg277 in the reaction with the esters, provides further evidence that the MDH reaction mechanism is not a concerted transfer of a hydride ion from the substrate to the FMN, but involves the transient formation of a carbanion/ene(di)olate intermediate.
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