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Some N(2)-fixing bacteria prolong the functionality of nitrogenase in molybdenum starvation by a special Mo storage protein (MoSto) that can store more than 100 Mo atoms. The presented 1.6 ?? X-ray structure of MoSto from Azotobacter vinelandii reveals various discrete polyoxomolybdate clusters, three covalently and three noncovalently bound Mo(8), three Mo(5-7), and one Mo(3) clusters, and several low occupied, so far undefinable clusters, which are embedded in specific pockets inside a locked cage-shaped (????)(3) protein complex. The structurally identical Mo(8) clusters (three layers of two, four, and two MoO(n) octahedra) are distinguishable from the [Mo(8)O(26)](4-) cluster formed in acidic solutions by two displaced MoO(n) octahedra implicating three kinetically labile terminal ligands. Stabilization in the covalent Mo(8) cluster is achieved by Mo bonding to His??156-N(??2) and Glu??129-O(??1). The absence of covalent protein interactions in the noncovalent Mo(8) cluster is compensated by a more extended hydrogen-bond network involving three pronounced histidines. One displaced MoO(n) octahedron might serve as nucleation site for an inhomogeneous Mo(5-7) cluster largely surrounded by bulk solvent. In the Mo(3) cluster located on the 3-fold axis, the three accurately positioned His140-N(??2) atoms of the ?? subunits coordinate to the Mo atoms. The formed polyoxomolybdate clusters of MoSto, not detectable in bulk solvent, are the result of an interplay between self- and protein-driven assembly processes that unite inorganic supramolecular and protein chemistry in a host-guest system. Template, nucleation/protection, and catalyst functions of the polypeptide as well as perspectives for designing new clusters are discussed.


Five years ago, Schemberg et al. reported the crystal structure of molybdenum/tungsten storage protein from Azotobacter vinelandii complexed with polyoxotungstates [1, 2]. Now Kowalewski et al. report the 1.6 X-ray structure of the same protein containing a...