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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2007 Mar;1767(3):244-60. Epub 2007 Jan 30.

Exploring pathways and barriers for coupled ET/PT in cytochrome c oxidase: a general framework for examining energetics and mechanistic alternatives.

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  • 1University of Southern California, 3620 McClintock Avenue, Department of Chemistry, SGM 418, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1062, USA.


Gaining a detailed understanding of the energetics of the proton pumping process in cytochrome c oxidase (CcO) is one of the challenges of modern biophysics. Although there are several current mechanistic proposals, most of these ideas have not been subjected to consistent structure-function considerations. In particular most works have not related the activation barriers for different mechanistic proposals to the protein structure. The present work describes a general approach for exploring the energetics of different feasible models of the action of CcO, using the observed protein structure, established simulation methods and a modified Marcus' formulation. We start by reviewing our methods for evaluation of the energy diagrams for different proton translocation paths and then present a systematic analysis of various constraints that should be imposed on any energy diagram for the pumping process. After the general analysis we turn to the actual computational study, where we construct energy diagrams for forward and backward paths, using the estimated calculated reduction potentials and pK(a) values of all the relevant sites (including internal water molecules). We then explore the relationship between the calculated energy diagrams and key experimental constraints. This comparison allows us to identify some barriers that are not fully consistent with the overall requirement for an efficient pumping. In particular we identify back leakage channels, which are hard to block without stopping the forward channels. This helps to identify open problems that will require further experimental and theoretical studies. We also consider reasonable adjustments of the calculated barriers that may lead to a working pump. Although the present analysis does not establish a unique and workable model for the mechanism of CcO, it presents what is probably the most consistent current analysis of the barriers for different feasible pathways. Perhaps more importantly, the framework developed here should provide a general way for examining any proposal for the action of CcO as well as for the analysis of further experimental findings about the action of this fascinating system.

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