An Aminoimidazole Radical Intermediate in the Anaerobic Biosynthesis of the 5,6-Dimethylbenzimidazole Ligand to Vitamin B12

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Organisms that perform the de novo biosynthesis of cobalamin (vitamin B12) do so via unique pathways depending on the presence of oxygen in the environment. The anaerobic biosynthesis pathway of 5,6-dimethylbenzimidazole, the so-called "lower ligand" to the cobalt center, has been recently identified. This process begins with the conversion of 5-aminoimidazole ribotide (AIR) to 5-hydroxybenzimidazole (HBI) by the radical S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM) enzyme BzaF, also known as HBI synthase. In this work we report the characterization of a radical intermediate in the reaction of BzaF using electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy. Using various isotopologues of AIR, we extracted hyperfine parameters for a number of nuclei, allowing us to propose plausible chemical compositions and structures for this intermediate. Specifically, we find that an aminoimidazole radical is formed in close proximity to a fragment of the ribose ring. These findings induce the revision of past proposed mechanisms and illustrate the ability of radical SAM enzymes to tightly control the radical chemistry that they engender.

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