4-Hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase (HPPD) and hydroxymandelate synthase (HMS) each catalyze similar complex dioxygenation reactions using the substrates 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate (HPP) and dioxygen. The reactions differ in that HPPD hydroxylates at the ring C1 and HMS at the benzylic position. The HPPD reaction is more complex in that hydroxylation at C1 instigates a 1,2-shift of an aceto substituent. Despite that multiple intermediates have been observed to accumulate in single turnover reactions of both enzymes, neither enzyme exhibits significant accumulation of the hydroxylating intermediate. In this study we employ a product analysis method based on the extents of intermediate partitioning with HPP deuterium substitutions to measure the kinetic isotope effects for hydroxylation. These data suggest that, when forming the native product homogentisate, the wild-type form of HPPD produces a ring epoxide as the immediate product of hydroxylation but that the variant HPPDs tended to also show the intermediacy of a benzylic cation for this step. Similarly, the kinetic isotope effects for the other major product observed, quinolacetic acid, showed that either pathway is possible. HMS variants show small normal kinetic isotope effects that indicate displacement of the deuteron in the hydroxylation step. The relatively small magnitude of this value argues best for a hydrogen atom abstraction/rebound mechanism. These data are the first definitive evidence for the nature of the hydroxylation reactions of HPPD and HMS.
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