Nitric oxide delivery and heme-assisted S-nitrosation by the bedbug nitrophorin

Hemant B. Badgandi, Andrzej Weichsel, William R. Montfort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nitrophorins are heme proteins used by blood feeding insects to deliver nitric oxide (NO) to a victim, leading to vasodilation and antiplatelet activity. Cimex lectularius (bedbug) nitrophorin (cNP) accomplishes this with a cysteine ligated ferric (Fe(III)) heme. In the acidic environment of the insect's salivary glands, NO binds tightly to cNP. During a blood meal, cNP-NO is delivered to the feeding site where dilution and increased pH lead to NO release. In a previous study, cNP was shown to not only bind heme, but to also nitrosate the proximal cysteine, leading to Cys-NO (SNO) formation. SNO formation requires oxidation of the proximal cysteine, which was proposed to be metal-assisted through accompanying reduction of ferric heme and formation of Fe(II)-NO. Here, we report the 1.6 Å crystal structure of cNP first chemically reduced and then exposed to NO, and show that Fe(II)-NO is formed but SNO is not, supporting a metal-assisted SNO formation mechanism. Crystallographic and spectroscopic studies of mutated cNP show that steric crowding of the proximal site inhibits SNO formation while a sterically relaxed proximal site enhances SNO formation, providing insight into specificity for this poorly understood modification. Experiments examining the pH dependence for NO implicate direct protonation of the proximal cysteine as the underlying mechanism. At lower pH, thiol heme ligation predominates, leading to a smaller trans effect and 60-fold enhanced NO affinity (Kd = 70 nM). Unexpectedly, we find that thiol formation interferes with SNO formation, suggesting cNP-SNO is unlikely to form in the insect salivary glands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112263
JournalJournal of Inorganic Biochemistry
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • Heme protein
  • Nitric oxide
  • Nitrophorin
  • Nitrosylation
  • S-nitrosocysteine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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