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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2003 Apr 11;1647(1-2):103-9.

Strain and catalysis in aspartate aminotransferase.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Osaka Medical College, 2-7 Daigaku-cho, Takatsuki 569-8686, Japan.


The notion of "ground-state destabilization" has been well documented in enzymology. It is the unfavourable interaction (strain) in the enzyme-substrate complex, and increases the k(cat) value without changing the k(cat)/K(m) value. During the course of the investigation on the reaction mechanism of aspartate aminotransferase (AAT), we found another type of strain that is crucial for catalysis: the strain of the distorted internal aldimine in the unliganded enzyme. This strain raises the energy level of the starting state (E+S), thereby reducing the energy gap between E+S and ES(++) and increasing the k(cat)/K(m) value. Further analysis on the reaction intermediates showed that the Michaelis complex of AAT with aspartate contains strain energy due to an unfavourable interaction between the main chain carbonyl oxygen and the Tyr225-aldimine hydrogen-bonding network. This belongs to the classical type of strain. In each case, the strain is reflected in the pK(a) value of the internal aldimine. In the historical explanation of the reaction mechanism of AAT, the shifts in the aldimine pK(a) have been considered to be the driving forces for the proton transfer during catalysis. However, the above findings indicate that the true driving forces are the strain energy inherent to the respective intermediates. We describe here how these strain energies are generated and are used for catalysis, and show that variations in the aldimine pK(a) during catalysis are no more than phenomenological results of adjusting the energy levels of the reaction intermediates for efficient catalysis.

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