We investigated the interaction between cytochrome c oxidase and its substrate cytochrome c by catalyzing the covalent linkage of the two proteins to yield 1 : 1 covalent enzyme–substrate complexes under conditions of low ionic strength. In addition to the ‘traditional’ oxidized complex formed between oxidized cytochrome c and the oxidized enzyme we prepared complexes under steady-state reducing conditions. Whereas for the ‘oxidized’ complex cytochrome c became bound exclusively to subunit II of the enzyme, for the ‘steady-state’ complex cytochrome c became bound to subunit II and two low molecular mass subunits, most likely VIb and IV.
For both complexes we investigated: (a) the ability of the covalently bound cytochrome c to relay electrons into the enzyme, and (b) the ability of the covalently bound enzyme to catalyze the oxidation of unbound (exogenous) ferrocytochrome c. Steady-state spectral analysis (400–630 nm) combined with stopped-flow studies, confirmed that the bound cytochrome c mediated the efficient transfer of electrons from the reducing agent ascorbate to the enzyme. In the case of the latter, the half life for the ascorbate reduction of the bound cytochrome c and that for the subsequent transfer of electrons to haem a were both < 5 ms. In contrast the covalent complexes, when reduced, were found to be totally unreactive towards oxidized cytochrome c oxidase confirming that the previously observed reduction of haem a within the complexes occurred via intramolecular rather than intermolecular electron transfer.
Additionally, stopped-flow analysis at 550 nm showed that haem a within both covalent complexes catalyzed the oxidation of exogenous ferrocytochrome c: The second order rate constant for the traditional complex was 0.55×106 m−1·s−1 while that for the steady-state was 0.27×106 m−1·s−1. These values were approximately 25–50% of those observed for 1 : 1 electrostatic complexes of similar concentrations. These results combined with those of the ascorbate and the electrophoresis studies suggest that electrons are able to enter cytochrome c oxidase via two independent pathways. We propose that during enzyme turnover the enzyme cycles between two conformers, one with a substrate binding site at subunit II and the other along the interface of subunits II, IV and VIb. Structural analysis suggests that Glu112, Glu113, Glu114 and Asp125 of subunit IV and Glu40, Glu54, Glu78, Asp35, Asp49, Asp73 and Asp74 of subunit VIb are residues that might possibly be involved.