Bovine cytochrome c oxidase (CcO), a 420-kDa membrane protein, pumps protons using electrostatic repulsion between protons transferred through a water channel and net positive charges created by oxidation of heme a (Fea) for reduction of O2 at heme a3 (Fea3). For this process to function properly, timing is essential: The channelmust be closed after collection of the protons to be pumped and before Fea oxidation. If the channel were to remain open, spontaneous backflow of the collected protons would occur. For elucidation of the channel closure mechanism, the opening of the channel, which occurs upon release of COfrom CcO, is investigated by newly developed time-resolved x-ray freeelectron laser and infrared techniqueswith nanosecond time resolution. The opening process indicates that CuB senses completion of proton collection and binds O2 before binding to Fea3 to close the water channel using a conformational relay system, which includes CuB, heme a3, and a transmembrane helix, to block backflow of the collected protons.
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