An evolution argument which attempted to trace the development of hemoglobins from such respiratory pigments as cytochrome oxidase presupposed that the latter possesses, in addition to its high affinity for oxygen, an approximately hyperbolic equilibrium function, and little if any Bohr effect (decline in affinity for oxygen with rise in acidity). Since cytochrome oxidase, unlike hemoglobin, is irreversibly oxidized by oxygen, the present experiments examine its combination with carbon monoxide, with which, like hemoglobin, it yields a true equilibrium. In all known hemoglobins the form of the equilibrium function and the vigor of the Bohr effect are similar with carbon monoxide and with oxygen, so that observations involving the former gas are relevant to the relations of the latter.
The equilibrium function of cytochrome oxidase with carbon monoxide—percentage saturation vs. partial pressure of CO—is slightly inflected (in the Hill equation n = 1.26; for a hyperbola, n = 1). No Bohr effect is present in the range of pH 7–8. The pressure of carbon monoxide at which half-saturation occurs (p50) is about 0.17 mm. at 10–13°C. The affinity for carbon monoxide is therefore higher than commonly supposed.
These properties are consistent with the evolution argument. They are important also for the physiological functioning of cytochrome oxidase, the nearly hyperbolic equilibrium function facilitating a high degree of saturation, and the lack of Bohr effect making this enzyme impervious to hyperacidity.
The slight inflection of the equilibrium function shows that the Fe-porphyrin units of cytochrome oxidase interact to a degree, hence that the enzyme must contain more than one such unit per molecule. It is suggested that in cytochrome oxidase two Fe-porphyrin groups may unite with one oxygen in the manner Fe++-O2-Fe++; and that the evolution of hemoglobins proceeded over a first stage in which the hemes were separated so that each combines with only one molecule of oxygen, so tending to remain reduced; to a further stage in which the separated hemes interact through the protein to facilitate one another in combining with oxygen.