We compare various allosteric models that have been proposed to explain cooperative oxygen binding to hemoglobin, including the two-state allosteric model of Monod, Wyman, and Changeux (MWC), the Cooperon model of Brunori, the model of Szabo and Karplus (SK) based on the stereochemical mechanism of Perutz, the generalization of the SK model by Lee and Karplus (SKL), and the Tertiary Two-State (TTS) model of Henry, Bettati, Hofrichter and Eaton. The preponderance of experimental evidence favors the TTS model which postulates an equilibrium between high (r)- and low (t)-affinity tertiary conformations that are present in both the T and R quaternary structures. Cooperative oxygenation in this model arises from the shift of T to R, as in MWC, but with a significant population of both r and t conformations in the liganded T and in the unliganded R quaternary structures. The TTS model may be considered a combination of the SK and SKL models, and these models provide a framework for a structural interpretation of the TTS parameters. The most compelling evidence in favor of the TTS model is the nanosecond - millisecond carbon monoxide (CO) rebinding kinetics in photodissociation experiments on hemoglobin encapsulated in silica gels. The polymeric network of the gel prevents any tertiary or quaternary conformational changes on the sub-second time scale, thereby permitting the subunit conformations prior to CO photodissociation to be determined from their ligand rebinding kinetics. These experiments show that a large fraction of liganded subunits in the T quaternary structure have the same functional conformation as liganded subunits in the R quaternary structure, an experimental finding inconsistent with the MWC, Cooperon, SK, and SKL models, but readily explained by the TTS model as rebinding to r subunits in T. We propose an additional experiment to test another key prediction of the TTS model, namely that a fraction of subunits in the unliganded R quaternary structure has the same functional conformation (t) as unliganded subunits in the T quaternary structure.
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