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Biophys J. 1999 Mar; 76(3): 1571–1579.
PMCID: PMC1300133

His ... Asp catalytic dyad of ribonuclease A: histidine pKa values in the wild-type, D121N, and D121A enzymes.


Bovine pancreatic ribonuclease A (RNase A) has a conserved His ... Asp catalytic dyad in its active site. Structural analyses had indicated that Asp121 forms a hydrogen bond with His119, which serves as an acid during catalysis of RNA cleavage. The enzyme contains three other histidine residues including His12, which is also in the active site. Here, 1H-NMR spectra of wild-type RNase A and the D121N and D121A variants were analyzed thoroughly as a function of pH. The effect of replacing Asp121 on the microscopic pKa values of the histidine residues is modest: none change by more than 0.2 units. There is no evidence for the formation of a low-barrier hydrogen bond between His119 and either an aspartate or an asparagine residue at position 121. In the presence of the reaction product, uridine 3'-phosphate (3'-UMP), protonation of one active-site histidine residue favors protonation of the other. This finding is consistent with the phosphoryl group of 3'-UMP interacting more strongly with the two active-site histidine residues when both are protonated. Comparison of the titration curves of the unliganded enzyme with that obtained in the presence of different concentrations of 3'-UMP shows that a second molecule of 3'-UMP can bind to the enzyme. Together, the data indicate that the aspartate residue in the His ... Asp catalytic dyad of RNase A has a measurable but modest effect on the ionization of the adjacent histidine residue.

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