Functional role of an unusual tyrosine residue in the electron transfer chain of a prokaryotic (6–4) photolyase
Cryptochromes and photolyases form a flavoprotein family in which the FAD chromophore undergoes light induced changes of its redox state. During this process, termed photoreduction, electrons flow from the surface via conserved amino acid residues to FAD. The bacterial (6–4) photolyase PhrB belongs to a phylogenetically ancient group. Photoreduction of PhrB differs from the typical pattern because the amino acid of the electron cascade next to FAD is a tyrosine (Tyr391), whereas photolyases and cryptochromes of other groups have a tryptophan as direct electron donor of FAD. Mutagenesis studies have identified Trp342 and Trp390 as essential for charge transfer. Trp342 is located at the periphery of PhrB while Trp390 connects Trp342 and Tyr391. The role of Tyr391, which lies between Trp390 and FAD, is however unclear as its replacement by phenylalanine did not block photoreduction. Experiments reported here, which replace Tyr391 by Ala, show that photoreduction is blocked, underlining the relevance of Tyr/Phe at position 391 and indicating that charge transfer occurs via the triad 391-390-342. This raises the question, why PhrB positions a tyrosine at this location, having a less favourable ionisation potential than tryptophan, which occurs at this position in many proteins of the photolyase/cryptochrome family. Tunnelling matrix calculations show that tyrosine or phenylalanine can be involved in a productive bridged electron transfer between FAD and Trp390, in line with experimental findings. Since replacement of Tyr391 by Trp resulted in loss of FAD and DMRL chromophores, electron transfer cannot be studied experimentally in this mutant, but calculations on a mutant model suggest that Trp might participate in the electron transfer cascade. Charge transfer simulations reveal an unusual stabilization of the positive charge on site 391 compared to other photolyases or cryptochromes. Water molecules near Tyr391 offer a polar environment which stabilizes the positive charge on this site, thereby lowering the energetic barrier intrinsic to tyrosine. This opens a second charge transfer channel in addition to tunnelling through the tyrosine barrier, based on hopping and therefore transient oxidation of Tyr391, which enables a fast charge transfer similar to proteins utilizing a tryptophan-triad. Our results suggest that evolution of the first site of the redox chain has just been possible by tuning the protein structure and environment to manage a downhill hole transfer process from FAD to solvent.