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J Am Chem Soc. 2001 Sep 12;123(36):8730-7.

Ab initio molecular dynamics-based assignment of the protonation state of pepstatin A/HIV-1 protease cleavage site.

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Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati and Istituto Nazionale di Fisica della Materia, Via Beirut 2-4, 34014 Trieste, Italy.


A recent 13C NMR experiment (Smith et al. Nature Struct. Biol. 1996, 3, 946-950) on the Asp 25-Asp25' dyad in pepstatin A/HIV-1 protease measured two separate resonance lines, which were interpreted as being a singly protonated dyad. We address this issue by performing ab initio molecular dynamics calculations on models for this site accompanied by calculations of 13C NMR chemical shifts and isotopic shifts. We find that already on the picosecond time-scale the model proposed by Smith et al. is not stable and evolves toward a different monoprotonated form whose NMR pattern differs from the experimental one. We suggest, instead, a different protonation state in which both aspartic groups are protonated. Despite the symmetric protonation state, the calculated 13C NMR properties are in good agreement with the experiment. We rationalize this result using a simple valence bond model, which explains the chemical inequality of the two C sites. The model calculations, together with our calculations on the complex, allow also the rationalization of 13C NMR properties on other HIV-1 PR/inhibitor complexes. Both putative binding of the substrate to the free enzyme, which has the dyad singly protonated (Piana, S.; Carloni, P. Proteins: Struct., Funct., Genet. 2000, 39, 26-36), and pepstatin A binding to the diprotonated form are consistent with the inverse solvent isotope effect on the onset of inhibition of pepsin by pepstatin and the kinetic iso-mechanism proposed for aspartic proteases (Cho, T.-K.; Rebholz, K.; Northrop, D.B. Biochemistry 1994, 33, 9637-9642).

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