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Kinetics of Enzymatic Mercury Methylation at Nanomolar Concentrations Catalyzed by HgcAB...

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology
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Methylmercury (MeHg) is a potent bioaccumulative neurotoxin that is produced by certain anaerobic bacteria and archaea. Mercury (Hg) methylation has been linked to the gene pair hgcAB, which encodes a membrane-associated corrinoid protein and a ferredoxin. Although microbial Hg methylation has been characterized in vivo, the cellular biochemistry and the specific roles of the gene products HgcA and HgcB in Hg methylation are not well understood. Here, we report the kinetics of Hg methylation in cell lysates of Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 at nanomolar Hg concentrations. The enzymatic Hg methylation mediated by HgcAB is highly oxygen sensitive, irreversible, and follows Michaelis-Menten kinetics, with an apparent Km of 3.2 nM and Vmax of 19.7 fmol · min−1 · mg−1 total protein for the substrate Hg(II). Although the abundance of HgcAB in the cell lysates is extremely low, Hg(II) was quantitatively converted to MeHg at subnanomolar substrate concentrations. Interestingly, increasing thiol/Hg(II) ratios did not impact Hg methylation rates, which suggests that HgcAB-mediated Hg methylation effectively competes with cellular thiols for Hg(II), consistent with the low apparent Km. Supplementation of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate or pyruvate did not enhance MeHg production, while both ATP and a nonhydrolyzable ATP analog decreased Hg methylation rates in cell lysates under the experimental conditions. These studies provide insights into the biomolecular processes associated with Hg methylation in anaerobic bacteria.