Flavin coenzymes are universally found in biological redox reactions. DNA photolyases, with their flavin chromophore (FAD), utilize blue light for DNA repair and photoreduction. The latter process involves two single-electron transfers to FAD with an intermittent protonation step to prime the enzyme active for DNA repair. Here we use time-resolved serial femtosecond X-ray crystallography to describe how light-driven electron transfers trigger subsequent nanosecond-to-microsecond entanglement between FAD and its Asn/Arg-Asp redox sensor triad. We found that this key feature within the photolyase-cryptochrome family regulates FAD re-hybridization and protonation. After first electron transfer, the FAD•- isoalloxazine ring twists strongly when the arginine closes in to stabilize the negative charge. Subsequent breakage of the arginine-aspartate salt bridge allows proton transfer from arginine to FAD•-. Our molecular videos demonstrate how the protein environment of redox cofactors organizes multiple electron/proton transfer events in an ordered fashion, which could be applicable to other redox systems such as photosynthesis.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.