It was originally shown  that urease retains its enzymatic activity when adsorbed at bare mercury and solid amalgam surfaces. However the opinion later prevailed that, when adsorbed at bare metal electrodes, proteins are irreversibly denatured. Here we confirm that urease is enzymatically active at a bare solid amalgam surface as found by Santhanam et al., and we show that this enzyme is equally active at a thiol-modified amalgam surface. We also show that it is the reduced form of urease, which is enzymatically active at Hg surfaces. Oxidation of the protein, resulting in formation of disulfide bonds, strongly decreases the enzyme activity. Using constant current chronopotentiometric stripping (CPS) we show that the exposure of surface-attached urease to negative potentials results in the protein unfolding. The extent of the unfolding depends upon the amount of time for which the protein is exposed to negative potentials, and at very short times this unfolding can be avoided. At thiol-modified Hg surfaces the protein is less vulnerable to the effects of the electric field. We conclude that the loss of enzymatic activity, resulting from a 10 min exposure of the protein to -0.58 V, is not due to reduction of the disulfide bonds as suggested by Santhanam et al. This loss is probably a result of protein reorientation, due to reduction of the Hg-S bonds (formed by accessible cysteines), followed by prolonged electric field effect on the surface-attached protein.
Keywords: Constant-current chronopotentiometric stripping; Mercury containing electrodes; Protein denaturation at negatively charged surfaces; Protein structure at surfaces; Thiol-modified electrodes; Urease enzymatic activity.
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