The catalytic mechanism of Propionibacterium acnes polyunsaturated fatty acid isomerase (PAI) is explored by kinetic, spectroscopic, and thermodynamic studies. The PAI-catalyzed double bond isomerization takes place by selective removal of the pro-R hydrogen from C-11 followed by suprafacial transfer of this hydrogen to C-9 as shown by conversion of C-9-deuterated substrate isotopologs. Data on the midpoint potential, photoreduction, and cofactor replacement suggest PAI to operate via an ionic mechanism with the formation of FADH2 and linoleic acid carbocation as intermediates. In line with this proposal, no radical intermediates were detected neither by stopped flow absorption nor by EPR spectroscopy. The substrate preference toward free fatty acids is determined by the interaction between Arg-88 and Phe-193, and the reaction rate is strongly affected by replacement of these amino acids, indicating that the efficiency of the hydrogen transfer relies on a fixed distance between the free carboxyl group and the N-5 atom of FAD. Combining data obtained for PAI from the structural studies and experiments described here suggests that at least two different prototypical active site geometries exist among polyunsaturated fatty acid double bond isomerases
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