The pH dependence of naturally occurring low-spin forms of methaemoglobin and metmyoglobin: An EPR study

D. A. Svistunenko, M. A. Sharpe, P. Nicholls, C. Blenkinsop, N. A. Davies, J. Dunne, M. T. Wilson, C. E. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The paramagnetic species in human metHb and horse metmyoglobin (metMb) have been studied at low temperature using EPR spectroscopy. The high-spin (HS) haem signal in aquometMb has a greater rhombic distortion than the HS metHb signal. Nevertheless, the individual line width (g = 6) is smaller in metMb than in metHb, consistent with non-identical signals from the α and β Hb subunits. Three low-spin (LS) haem forms are present in metHb, while metMb has only two. The major LS form in both proteins is the alkaline species (with OH- at the sixth coordination position). The minor LS forms are assigned to different histidine hemichromes in equilibrium with the normal HS species at low temperature. LS forms disappear when the haem is bound by a ligand, such as fluoride, which ensures 100 % occupancy of the HS state both at room temperature and at 25 K. The small differences in effective g-factors of the histidine hemichromes are interpreted in terms of different distances between the distal histidine and haem iron. The pH dependence of the inter-conversion of the different paramagnetic species is consistent with a model whereby protonation of a residue with a pK of 5.69 (metHb) or 6.12 (metMb), affects ligand binding and transformation from the HS to the LS form. Chemical and spectroscopic considerations suggest that the residue is unlikely to be the proximal or distal histidine. We therefore propose a model where protonation of this distant amino acid causes a conformational change at the iron site. Identical effects are seen in frozen human blood, suggesting that this effect may have physiological significance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-605
Number of pages11
JournalBiochemical Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2000


  • Hemichromes
  • Histidine
  • Human blood
  • Mechanism simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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