NO is an important signaling molecule in human tissue. However, the mechanisms by which this molecule is controlled and directed are currently little understood. Nitrophorins (NPs) comprise a group of ferriheme proteins originating from blood-sucking insects that are tailored to protect and deliver NO via coordination to and release from the heme iron. Therefore, the kinetics of the association and dissociation reactions were studied in this work using the ferroheme−CO complexes of NP4, NP4(D30N), and NP7 as isoelectronic models for the ferriheme−NO complexes. The kinetic measurements performed by nanosecond laser-flash-photolysis and stopped-flow are accompanied by resonance Raman and FT-IR spectroscopy to characterize the carbonyl species. Careful analysis of the CO rebinding kinetics reveals that in NP4 and, to a larger extent, NP7 internal gas binding cavities are located, which temporarily trap photodissociated ligands. Moreover, changes in the free energy barriers throughout the rebinding and release pathway upon increase of the pH are surprisingly small in case of NP4. Also in case of NP4, a heterogeneous kinetic trace is obtained at pH 7.5, which corresponds to the presence of two carbonyl species in the heme cavity that are seen in vibrational spectroscopy that are due to the change of the distal pocket polarity. Quantification of the two species from FT-IR spectra allowed the fitting of the kinetic traces as two processes, corresponding to the previously reported open and closed conformation of the A-B and G-H loops. With the use of the A-B loop mutant NP4(D30N), it was confirmed that the kinetic heterogeneity is controlled by pH through the disruption of the H-bond between Asp30 side chain and the Leu130 backbone carbonyl. Overall, this first study on the slow phase of the dynamics of diatomic gas molecule interaction with NPs comprises an important experimental contribution for the understanding of the dynamics involved in the binding/release processes of NO/CO in NPs.
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