Hybrid [FeFe]-Hydrogenases with Modified Active Sites Show Remarkable Residual Enzymatic Activity
[FeFe]-hydrogenases are to date the only enzymes for which it has been demonstrated that the native inorganic binuclear cofactor of the active site Fe2(adt)(CO)3(CN)2 (adt = azadithiolate = [S-CH2-NH-CH2-S]2–) can be synthesized on the laboratory bench and subsequently inserted into the unmaturated enzyme to yield fully functional holo-enzyme (Berggren, G. et al. (2013) Nature 499, 66–70; Esselborn, J. et al. (2013) Nat. Chem. Biol. 9, 607–610). In the current study, we exploit this procedure to introduce non-native cofactors into the enzyme. Mimics of the binuclear subcluster with a modified bridging dithiolate ligand (thiodithiolate, N-methylazadithiolate, dimethyl-azadithiolate) and three variants containing only one CN– ligand were inserted into the active site of the enzyme. We investigated the activity of these variants for hydrogen oxidation as well as proton reduction and their structural accommodation within the active site was analyzed using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Interestingly, the monocyanide variant with the azadithiolate bridge showed ∼50% of the native enzyme activity. This would suggest that the CN– ligands are not essential for catalytic activity, but rather serve to anchor the binuclear subsite inside the protein pocket through hydrogen bonding. The inserted artificial cofactors with a propanedithiolate and an N-methylazadithiolate bridge as well as their monocyanide variants also showed residual activity. However, these activities were less than 1% of the native enzyme. Our findings indicate that even small changes in the dithiolate bridge of the binuclear subsite lead to a rather strong decrease of the catalytic activity. We conclude that both the Brønsted base function and the conformational flexibility of the native azadithiolate amine moiety are essential for the high catalytic activity of the native enzyme.