Two histidines provide the axial ligands of the two chlorophyll a (Chl a) molecules which form the primary electron donor (P700) of photosystem I (PSI). Histidine 676 in the protein subunit PsaA, His(A676), and histidine 656 in subunit PsaB, His(B656), were replaced in the green algae Chlamydomnas reinhardtii by site-directed mutagenesis with nonpolar, uncharged polar, acidic, and basic amino acid residues. Only the substitutions with uncharged polar residues led to a significant accumulation of PSI in the thylakoid membranes. These PSI complexes were isolated and the physical properties of the primary donor characterized. The midpoint potential of P700+·/P700 was increased in all mutants (up to 140 mV) and showed a dependence on size and polarizability of the residues when His(B656) was substituted. In the light-minus-dark absorbance spectra, all mutations in PsaB exhibited an additional bleaching band at 665 nm at room temperature comparable with the published spectrum for the replacement of His(B656) with asparagine [Webber, A. N., Su Hui, Bingham, S. E., Kass, H., Krabben, L., Kuhn, M., Jordan, R., Schlodder, E., and Lubitz, W. (1996) Biochemistry 35, 12857-12863]. Substitutions of His-(A676) showed an additional shoulder around 680 nm. In the low-temperature absorbance difference spectra of P700+·/P700, a blue shift of the main bleaching band by 2 nm and some changes in the spectral features around 660 nm were observed for mutations of His(B656) in PsaB. The analogous substitution in PsaA showed only a shift of the main bleaching band. Similar effects of the mutations were found in the 3P700/P700 absorbance difference spectra at low temperatures (T = 2 K). The zero-field splitting parameters of 3P700 were not significantly changed in the mutated PSI complexes. The electron spin density distribution of P700+·, determined by ENDOR spectroscopy, was only changed when His(B656) was replaced. In all measurements, two general observations were made. (i) The replacement of His-(B656) had a much stronger impact on the physical properties of P700 than the mutation of His(A676). (ii) The exchange of His(B656) with glutamine induces the smallest changes in the spectra or the midpoint potential, whereas the other replacements exhibited a stronger but very similar influence on the spectroscopic features of P700. The data provide convincing evidence that the unpaired electron in the cation radical and the triplet state of P700 are mainly localized on the Chl a of the dimer which is axially coordinated by His(B656).
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