High resolution structure of the ba3 cytochrome c oxidase from thermus thermophilus in a lipidic environment

Theresa Tiefenbrunn, Wei Liu, Ying Chen, Vsevolod Katritch, C. David Stout, James A. Fee, Vadim Cherezov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


The fundamental chemistry underpinning aerobic life on Earth involves reduction of dioxygen to water with concomitant proton translocation. This process is catalyzed by members of the heme-copper oxidase (HCO) superfamily. Despite the availability of crystal structures for all types of HCO, the mode of action for this enzyme is not understood at the atomic level, namely how vectorial H + and e - transport are coupled. Toward addressing this problem, we report wild type and A120F mutant structures of the ba 3-type cytochrome c oxidase from Thermus thermophilus at 1.8 Å resolution. The enzyme has been crystallized from the lipidic cubic phase, which mimics the biological membrane environment. The structures reveal 20 ordered lipid molecules that occupy binding sites on the protein surface or mediate crystal packing interfaces. The interior of the protein encloses 53 water molecules, including 3 trapped in the designated K-path of proton transfer and 8 in a cluster seen also in A-type enzymes that likely functions in egress of product water and proton translocation. The hydrophobic O 2-uptake channel, connecting the active site to the lipid bilayer, contains a single water molecule nearest the Cu B atom but otherwise exhibits no residual electron density. The active site contains strong electron density for a pair of bonded atoms bridging the heme Fe a3 and Cu B atoms that is best modeled as peroxide. The structure of ba 3-oxidase reveals new information about the positioning of the enzyme within the membrane and the nature of its interactions with lipid molecules. The atomic resolution details provide insight into the mechanisms of electron transfer, oxygen diffusion into the active site, reduction of oxygen to water, and pumping of protons across the membrane. The development of a robust system for production of ba 3-oxidase crystals diffracting to high resolution, together with an established expression system for generating mutants, opens the door for systematic structure-function studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22348
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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