Myoglobin rebinding of carbon monoxide and dioxygen after photodissociation has been observed in the temperature range between 40 and 350 K. A system was constructed that records the change in optical absorption at 436 nm smoothly and without break between 2 musec and 1 ksec. Four different rebinding processes have been found. Between 40 and 160 K, a single process is observed. It is not exponential in time, but approximately given by N(t) = (1 + t/to)-n, where to and n are temperature-dependent, ligand-concentration independent, parameters. At about 170 K, a second and at 200 K, a third concentration-independent process emerge. At 210 K, a concentration-dependent process sets in. If myoglobin is embedded in a solid, only the first three can be seen, and they are all nonexponential. In a liquid glycerol-water solvent, rebinding is exponential. To interpret the data, a model is proposed in which the ligand molecule, on its way from the solvent to the binding site at the ferrous heme iron, encounters four barriers in succession. The barriers are tentatively identified with known features of myoglobin. By computer-solving the differential equation for the motion of a ligand molecule over four barriers, the rates for all important steps are obtained. The temperature dependences of the rates yield enthalpy, entropy, and free-energy changes at all barriers. The free-energy barriers at 310 K indicate how myoglobin achieves specificity and order. For carbon monoxide, the heights of these barriers increase toward the inside; carbon monoxide consequently is partially rejected at each of the four barriers. Dioxygen, in contrast, sees barriers of about equal height and moves smoothly toward the binding site. The entropy increases over the first two barriers, indicating a rupturing of bonds or displacement of residues, and then smoothly decreases, reaching a minimum at the binding site. The magnitude of the decrease over the innermost barrier implies participation of heme and/or protein. The nonexponential rebinding observed at low temperatures and in solid samples implies that the innermost barrier has a spectrum of activation energies. The shape of the spectrum has been determined; its existence can be explained by assuming the presence of many conformational states for myoglobin. In a liquid at temperatures above about 230 K, relaxation among conformational states occurs and rebinding becomes exponential.
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