Cyanide binding to myoglobin is much slower than that of other ferric and ferrous ligands, suggesting rate limitation by bond formation and disruption within the distal pocket. This interpretation is supported by two key experimental observations. First, His64(E7) to Gly and Ala mutations, which open a direct channel from the solvent to the iron atom, and Phe46(CD4) to Leu, Ile, and Val mutations, which increase the mobility of the distal histidine, have little effect on the association rate constant for cyanide binding. In contrast, these mutations cause 100-1000-fold increases in the rate constant for azide binding, showing convincingly that the binding of this ligand is limited by the rate of its movement into the protein. Second, the rate constant for cyanide dissociation is unaffected by changing the size of the residue at position 64(E7) in the series Gly, Val, Leu, Ile, Phe, whereas there is a 2000-fold decrease in the rate of azide dissociation in going from Gly64 to Phe64 metmyoglobin. The major determinants of the cyanide affinity are the ease of water displacement from the ferric iron atom in metmyoglobin, the acid dissociation constant of HCN inside the protein (K*(a)), and steric hindrance and electrostatic interactions at the sixth coordination position. Direct hydrogen bonding to the distal histidine does not appear to play an important role in stabilizing bound cyanide. Instead, the general polarity of the distal pocket and its effect on K*(a) are the key factors regulating cyanide affinity under physiological conditions.
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