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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Mar 2;101(9):2730-5. Epub 2004 Feb 20.

Transition state stabilization by general acid catalysis, water expulsion, and enzyme reorganization in Medicago savita chalcone isomerase.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


In aqueous solution, Medicago savita chalcone isomerase (CHI) enhances the reaction rate for the unimolecular rearrangement of chalcone (CHN) into flavanone by seven orders of magnitude. Conformations of CHN and their relative free energies in water and CHI were investigated by the thermodynamic perturbation method. In water, CHN adopts two conformations (I and II) with conformation I being higher in energy than conformation II by 3 kcal/mol. Only I can give rise to a near attack conformer (NAC) where the nucleophile O2' and the electrophile C9 are placed in proximity. In CHI, I binds less tightly than II by approximately 2 kcal/mol, resulting in the free energy for NAC formation being approximately 2 kcal/mol higher in the enzyme than in water. This unfavorable feature in the ground state of the CHI reaction requires the predominant catalytic advantage to be taken in the step of NAC --> transition state (TS). From the molecular dynamics simulations of apo-CHI, CHI complexed with CHN (CHI.CHN) and CHI.TS, we found: (i) Lys-97-general-acid catalysis of the O2'(-) nucleophilic addition; (ii) expulsion of three water molecules in the process of TS formation; (iii) release of enzyme structural distortion on TS formation. In the conclusion, CHI's remarkable efficiency of stabilizing the TS and its relatively poor ability in organizing the ground state is compared with chorismate mutase whose catalytic prowess, when compared with water, originates predominantly from the enhanced NAC population at the active site.

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