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Cytochrome P450 (P450) 2D6 oxidizes a wide variety of drugs typically at a distance of 5-7 A from a basic nitrogen on the substrate. To investigate the determinants of P450 2D6 catalysis, we analyzed the binding and oxidation of phenethylamine substrates. P450 2D6 discriminated between the various phenethylamines, as evidenced by binding and steady-state results. Whereas the spectral binding affinity for 3-methoxyphenethylamine and 4-methoxyphenethylamine was similar, the affinity for 4-hydroxyphenethylamine was 12-fold weaker than for 3-hydroxyphenethylamine at pH 7.4. The binding of 3,4-dihydroxyphenethylamine was equally poor. These equilibrium dissociation constants were based on the observation of both type I and type II perturbation difference spectra; the former involves displacement of the proximal H(2)O ligand, yielding an iron spin state change, and the latter requires nitrogen ligation to the heme iron. One explanation for the observed type II binding spectra is the presence of both protonated and unprotonated forms of these compounds. To address this possibility, the K(S) values for 3-methoxyphenethylamine and 4-methoxyphenethylamine were determined as a function of pH. Two apparent pK(a) values were determined, which corresponded to a P450 2D6 residue involved in binding and to a lowered pK(a) of a substrate amine group upon binding P450 2D6. The apparent pK(a) of the enzyme residue (6.6) is much higher than the expected pK(a) of Asp301, which has been hypothesized to play a role in binding. Interestingly, the apparent pK(a) for the methoxyphenethylamine derivatives decreased by as much as 2 pH units upon binding to P450 2D6. 3-Methoxyphenethylamine and 4-methoxyphenethylamine underwent sequential oxidations with O-demethylation and subsequent ring hydroxylation to form 3,4-dihydroxyphenethylamine (dopamine). At higher substrate concentrations, the second oxidation was inhibited. This result can be explained by the increasing concentration of the inhibitory unprotonated substrate. Nevertheless, the rates of methoxyphenethylamine oxidations are the highest reported for P450 2D6 substrates.