1,4-Dihydroxy-2-naphthoyl-coenzyme A (DHNA-CoA) synthase, or MenB, catalyzes an intramolecular Claisen condensation involving two oxyanion intermediates in the biosynthetic pathway of menaquinone, an essential respiration electron transporter in many microorganisms. Here we report the finding that the DHNA-CoA product and its analogues bind and inhibit the synthase from Escherichia coli with significant ultraviolet-visible spectral changes, which are similar to the changes induced by deprotonation of the free inhibitors in a basic solution. Dissection of the structure-affinity relationships of the inhibitors identifies the hydroxyl groups at positions 1 (C1-OH) and 4 (C4-OH) of DHNA-CoA or their equivalents as the dominant and minor sites, respectively, for the enzyme-ligand interaction that polarizes or deprotonates the bound ligands to cause the observed spectral changes. In the meantime, spectroscopic studies with active site mutants indicate that C4-OH of the enzyme-bound DHNA-CoA interacts with conserved polar residues Arg-91, Tyr-97, and Tyr-258 likely through a hydrogen bonding network that also includes Ser-161. In addition, site-directed mutation of the conserved Asp-163 to alanine causes a complete loss of the ligand binding ability of the protein, suggesting that the Asp-163 side chain is most likely hydrogen-bonded to C1-OH of DHNA-CoA to provide the dominant polarizing effect. Moreover, this mutation also completely eliminates the enzyme activity, strongly supporting the possibility that the Asp-163 side chain provides a strong stabilizing hydrogen bond to the tetrahedral oxyanion, which takes a position similar to that of C1-OH of the enzyme-bound DHNA-CoA and is the second high-energy intermediate in the intracellular Claisen condensation reaction. Interestingly, both Arg-91 and Tyr-97 are located in a disordered loop forming part of the active site of all available DHNA-CoA synthase structures. Their involvement in the interaction with the small molecule ligands suggests that the disordered loop is folded in interaction with the substrates or reaction intermediates, supporting an induced-fit catalytic mechanism for the enzyme.
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