Structure of the detoxification catalyst mercuric ion reductase from Bacillus sp. strain RC607

Nature. 1991 Jul 11;352(6331):168-72. doi: 10.1038/352168a0.


Several hundred million tons of toxic mercurials are dispersed in the biosphere. Microbes can detoxify organo-mercurials and mercury salts through sequential action of two enzymes, organomercury lyase and mercuric ion reductase (MerA). The latter, a homodimer with homology to the FAD-dependent disulphide oxidoreductases, catalyses the reaction NADPH + Hg(II)----NADP+ + H+ + Hg(0), one of the very rare enzymic reactions with metal substrates. Human glutathione reductase serves as a reference molecule for FAD-dependent disulphide reductases and between its primary structure and that of MerA from Tn501 (Pseudomonas), Tn21 (Shigella), p1258 (Staphylococcus) and Bacillus, 25-30% of the residues have been conserved. All MerAs have a C-terminal extension about 15 residues long but have very varied N termini. Although the enzyme from Streptomyces lividans has no addition, from Pseudomonas aeruginosa Tn501 and Bacillus sp. strain RC607 it has one and two copies respectively of a domain of 80-85 residues, highly homologous to MerP, the periplasmic component of proteins encoded by the mer operon. These domains can be proteolytically cleaved off without changing the catalytic efficiency. We report here the crystal structure of MerA from the Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus sp. strain RC607. Analysis of its complexes with nicotinamide dinucleotide substrates and the inhibitor Cd(II) reveals how limited structural changes enable an enzyme to accept as substrate what used to be a dangerous inhibitor. Knowledge of the mode of mercury ligation is a prerequisite for understanding this unique detoxification mechanism.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus / enzymology*
  • Binding Sites
  • Cadmium / pharmacology
  • Crystallization
  • Disulfides / metabolism
  • Flavin-Adenine Dinucleotide / metabolism
  • Glutathione Reductase / chemistry
  • Glutathione Reductase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Mercury / metabolism
  • NADP / metabolism
  • Oxidoreductases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Oxidoreductases / chemistry*
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Protein Conformation


  • Disulfides
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Cadmium
  • Flavin-Adenine Dinucleotide
  • NADP
  • Oxidoreductases
  • mercuric reductase
  • Glutathione Reductase
  • Mercury