Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Designing a functional type 2 copper center that has nitrite reductase activity within α-helical coiled coils.

PMID 23236170


One of the ultimate objectives of de novo protein design is to realize systems capable of catalyzing redox reactions on substrates. This goal is challenging as redox-active proteins require design considerations for both the reduced and oxidized states of the protein. In this paper, we describe the spectroscopic characterization and catalytic activity of a de novo designed metallopeptide Cu(I/II)(TRIL23H)(3)(+/2+), where Cu(I/II) is embeded in α-helical coiled coils, as a model for the Cu(T2) center of copper nitrite reductase. In Cu(I/II)(TRIL23H)(3)(+/2+), Cu(I) is coordinated to three histidines, as indicated by X-ray absorption data, and Cu(II) to three histidines and one or two water molecules. Both ions are bound in the interior of the three-stranded coiled coils with affinities that range from nano- to micromolar [Cu(II)], and picomolar [Cu(I)]. The Cu(His)(3) active site is characterized in both oxidation states, revealing similarities to the Cu(T2) site in the natural enzyme. The species Cu(II)(TRIL23H)(3)(2+) in aqueous solution can be reduced to Cu(I)(TRIL23H)(3)(+) using ascorbate, and reoxidized by nitrite with production of nitric oxide. At pH 5.8, with an excess of both the reductant (ascorbate) and the substrate (nitrite), the copper peptide Cu(II)(TRIL23H)(3)(2+) acts as a catalyst for the reduction of nitrite with at least five turnovers and no loss of catalytic efficiency after 3.7 h. The catalytic activity, which is first order in the concentration of the peptide, also shows a pH dependence that is described and discussed.