Structural and Functional Relevance of the Conserved Residue V13 in the Triheme Cytochrome PpcA from Geobacter sulfurreducens

The triheme cytochrome PpcA from Geobacter sulfurreducens is highly abundant under several growth conditions and is important for extracellular electron transfer. PpcA plays a central role in transferring electrons resulting from the cytoplasmic oxidation of carbon compounds to the cell exterior. This cytochrome is designed to couple electron and proton transfer at physiological pH, a process achieved via the selection of dominant microstates during the redox cycle of the protein, which are ultimately regulated by a well-established order of oxidation of the heme groups. The three hemes are covered only by a polypeptide chain of 71 residues and are located in the small hydrophobic core of the protein. In this work, we used NMR and X-ray crystallography to investigate the structural and functional role of a conserved valine residue (V13) located within van der Waals contact of hemes III and IV. The residue was replaced by alanine (V13A), isoleucine (V13I), serine (V13S), and threonine (V13T) to probe the effects of the side chain volume and polarity. All mutants were found to be as equally thermally stable as the native protein. The V13A and V13T mutants produced crystals and their structures were determined. The side chain of the threonine residue introduced in V13T showed two conformations, but otherwise the two structures did not show significant changes from the native structure. Analysis of the redox behavior of the four mutants showed that for the hydrophobic replacements (V13A and V13I) the redox properties, and hence the order of oxidation of the hemes, were unaffected in spite of the larger side chain, isoleucine, showing two conformations with minor changes of the protein in the heme core. On the other hand, the polar replacements (V13S and V13T) showed the presence of two more distinctive conformations, and the oxidation order of the hemes was altered. Overall, it is striking that a single residue with proper size and polarity, V13, was naturally selected to ensure a unique conformation of the protein and the order of oxidation of the hemes, endowing the cytochrome PpcA with the optimal functional properties necessary to ensure effectiveness in the extracellular electron transfer respiratory pathways of G. sulfurreducens.