Protonation States of Homocitrate and Nearby Residues in Nitrogenase Studied by Computational Methods and Quantum Refinement

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Nitrogenase is the only enzyme that can break the triple bond in N2 to form two molecules of ammonia. The enzyme has been thoroughly studied with both experimental and computational methods, but there is still no consensus regarding the atomic details of the reaction mechanism. In the most common form, the active site is a MoFe7S9C(homocitrate) cluster. The homocitrate ligand contains one alcohol and three carboxylate groups. In water solution, the triply deprotonated form dominates, but because the alcohol (and one of the carboxylate groups) coordinate to the Mo ion, this may change in the enzyme. We have performed a series of computational calculations with molecular dynamics (MD), quantum mechanical (QM) cluster, combined QM and molecular mechanics (QM/MM), QM/MM with Poisson-Boltzmann and surface area solvation, QM/MM thermodynamic cycle perturbations, and quantum refinement methods to settle the most probable protonation state of the homocitrate ligand in nitrogenase. The results quite conclusively point out a triply deprotonated form (net charge -3) with a proton shared between the alcohol and one of the carboxylate groups as the most stable at pH 7. Moreover, we have studied eight ionizable protein residues close to the active site with MD simulations and determined the most likely protonation states.


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  • Physical Chemistry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8242-8262
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number35
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Sep 7
Publication categoryResearch

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