Nitrile hydratases (NHases) possess a mononuclear iron or cobalt cofactor whose coordination environment includes rare post-translationally oxidized cysteine sulfenic and sulfinic acid ligands. This cofactor is located in the α-subunit at the interfacial active site of the heterodimeric enzyme. Unlike canonical NHases, toyocamycin nitrile hydratase (TNHase) from Streptomyces rimosus is a unique three-subunit member of this family involved in the biosynthesis of pyrrolopyrimidine antibiotics. The subunits of TNHase are homologous to the α- and β-subunits of prototypical NHases. Herein we report the expression, purification, and characterization of the α-subunit of TNHase. The UV-visible, EPR, and mass spectra of the α-subunit TNHase provide evidence that this subunit alone is capable of synthesizing the active site complex with full post-translational modifications. Remarkably, the isolated post-translationally modified α-subunit is also catalytically active with the natural substrate, toyocamycin, as well as the niacin precursor 3-cyanopyridine. Comparisons of the steady state kinetic parameters of the single subunit variant to the heterotrimeric protein clearly show that the additional subunits impart substrate specificity and catalytic efficiency. We conclude that the α-subunit is the minimal sequence needed for nitrile hydration providing a simplified scaffold to study the mechanism and post-translational modification of this important class of catalysts.
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