An engineered blockage within the ammonia tunnel of carbamoyl phosphate synthetase prevents the use of glutamine as a substrate but not ammonia. Academic Article uri icon


  • The heterodimeric carbamoyl phosphate synthetase (CPS) from Escherichia coli catalyzes the formation of carbamoyl phosphate from bicarbonate, glutamine, and two molecules of ATP. The enzyme catalyzes the hydrolysis of glutamine within the small amidotransferase subunit and then transfers ammonia to the two active sites within the large subunit. These three active sites are connected via an intermolecular tunnel, which has been located within the X-ray crystal structure of CPS from E. coli. It has been proposed that the ammonia intermediate diffuses through this molecular tunnel from the binding site for glutamine within the small subunit to the phosphorylation site for bicarbonate within the large subunit. To provide experimental support for the functional significance of this molecular tunnel, residues that define the interior walls of the "ammonia tunnel" within the small subunit were targeted for site-directed mutagenesis. These structural modifications were intended to either block or impede the passage of ammonia toward the large subunit. Two mutant proteins (G359Y and G359F) display kinetic properties consistent with a constriction or blockage of the ammonia tunnel. With both mutants, the glutaminase and bicarbonate-dependent ATPase reactions have become uncoupled from one another. However, these mutant enzymes are fully functional when external ammonia is utilized as the nitrogen source but are unable to use glutamine for the synthesis of carbamoyl-P. These results suggest the existence of an alternate route to the bicarbonate phosphorylation site when ammonia is provided as an external nitrogen source.

published proceedings

  • Biochemistry

author list (cited authors)

  • Huang, X., & Raushel, F. M.

citation count

  • 39

complete list of authors

  • Huang, X||Raushel, FM

publication date

  • March 2000