Background: Cytochromes P450 catalyze the oxidation of a variety of hydrophobic substrates. Sequence identities between P450 families are generally low (10-30%), and consequently, the structure-function correlations among P450s are not clear. The crystal structures of P450terp and the hemoprotein domain of P450BM-3 were recently determined, and are compared here with the previously available structure of P450cam.
Results: The topology of all three enzymes is quite similar. The heme-binding core structure is well conserved, except for local differences in the I helices. The greatest variation is observed in the substrate-binding regions. The structural superposition of the proteins permits an improved sequence alignment of other P450s. The charge distribution in the three structures is similarly asymmetric and defines a molecular dipole.
Conclusions: Based on this comparison we believe that all P450s will be found to possess the same tertiary structure. The ability to precisely predict other P450 substrate-contact residues is limited by the extreme structural heterogeneity in the substrate-recognition regions. The central I-helix structures of P450terp and P450BM-3 suggest a role for helix-associated solvent molecules as a source of catalytic protons, distinct from the mechanism for P450cam. We suggest that the P450 molecular dipole might aid in both redox-partner docking and proton recruitment for catalysis.