The particulate methane monooxygenase (pMMO) is a complex membrane protein complex that has been difficult to isolate and purify for biochemical and biophysical characterization because of its instability in detergents used to solubilize the enzyme. In this perspective, we summarize the progress recently made toward obtaining a purified pMMO-detergent complex and characterizing the enzyme in pMMO-enriched membranes. The purified pMMO is a multi-copper protein, with ca. 15 copper ions sequestered into five trinuclear copper clusters: two for dioxygen chemistry and alkane hydroxylation (catalytic or C-clusters) and three to provide a buffer of reducing equivalents to re-reduce the C-clusters following turnover (electron transfer or E-clusters). The enzyme is functional when all the copper ions are reduced. When the protein is purified under ambient aerobic conditions in the absence of a hydrocarbon substrate, only the C-clusters are oxidized; there is an apparent kinetic barrier for electron transfer from the E-cluster copper ions to the C-clusters under these conditions. Evidence is provided in support of both C-clusters participating in the dioxygen chemistry, but only one C-cluster supporting alkane hydroxylation. Acetylene modification of the latter C-cluster in the hydrophobic pocket of the active site lowers or removes the kinetic barrier for electron transfer from the E-clusters to the C-clusters so that all the copper ions could be fully oxidized by dioxygen. A model for the hydroxylation chemistry when a hydrocarbon substrate is bound to the active site of the hydroxylation C-cluster is presented. Unlike soluble methane monooxygenase (sMMO), pMMO exhibits limited substrate specificity, but the hydroxylation chemistry is highly regioselective and stereoselective. In addition, the hydroxylation occurs with total retention of configuration of the carbon center that is oxidized. These results are consistent with a concerted mechanism involving direct side-on insertion of an active singlet "oxene" from the activated copper cluster across the "C-H" bond in the active site. Finally, in our hands, both the purified pMMO-detergent complex and pMMO-enriched membranes exhibit high NADH-sensitive as well as duroquinol-sensitive specific activity. A possible role for the two reductants in the turnover of the enzyme is proposed.
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