Infrared spectra of heme-bound CO in sperm whale carbonmonoxy myoglobin and two mutants (H64L and H97F) were studied in the pH range from 4.2 to 9.5. Comparison of the native protein with the mutants shows that the observed pH effects can be traced to protonations of two histidine residues, H64 and H97, near the active site. Their imidazole sidechains experience simple, uncoupled Henderson-Hasselbalch type protonations, giving rise to four different protonation states. Because two of the protonation states are linked by a pH- independent equilibrium, the overall pH dependence of the spectra is described by a linear combination of three independent components. Global analysis, based on singular value decomposition and matrix least-squares algorithms enabled us to extract the pK values of the two histidines and the three basis spectra of the protonating species. The basis spectra were decomposed into the taxonomic substates A0, A1, and A3, previously introduced in a heuristic way to analyze CO stretch spectra in heme proteins at fixed pH (see for instance, Johnson et al., 1996, Biophys. J. 71:1563- 1573). Moreover, an additional, weakly populated substate, called A(x), was identified. Protonation of H97 gives rise to a blue shift of the individual infrared lines by about 2 cm-1, so that the A substates actually appear in pairs, such as A0 and A+0. The blue shift can be explained by reduced backbonding from the heme iron to the CO. Protonation of the distal histidine, H64, leads to a change of the infrared absorption from the A1 or A3 substate lines to A0. This behavior can be explained by a conformational change upon protonation that moves the imidazole sidechain of H64 away from the CO into the high-dielectric solvent environment, which avoids the energetically unfavorable situation of an uncompensated electric charge in the apolar, low-dielectric protein interior. Our results suggest that protonation reactions serve as an important mechanism to create taxonomic substates in proteins.
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We thank H. Frauenfelder and Solomon S. Stavrov for helpful discussions. This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (PHY95-13217) and the National Institutes of Health (GM 18051).