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J Am Chem Soc. 2007 Nov 7;129(44):13566-74. Epub 2007 Oct 12.

Molecular structures and dynamics of the stepwise activation mechanism of a matrix metalloproteinase zymogen: challenging the cysteine switch dogma.

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Department of Structural Biology, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


Activation of matrix metalloproteinase zymogen (pro-MMP) is a vital homeostatic process, yet its molecular basis remains unresolved. Using stopped-flow X-ray spectroscopy of the active site zinc ion, we determined the temporal sequence of pro-MMP-9 activation catalyzed by tissue kallikrein protease in milliseconds to several minutes. The identity of three intermediates seen by X-ray spectroscopy was corroborated by molecular dynamics simulations and quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics calculations. The cysteine-zinc interaction that maintains enzyme latency is disrupted via active-site proton transfers that mediate transient metal-protein coordination events and eventual binding of water. Unexpectedly, these events ensue as a direct result of complexation of pro-MMP-9 and kallikrein and occur before proteolysis and eventual dissociation of the pro-peptide from the catalytic site. Here we demonstrate the synergism among long-range protein conformational transitions, local structural rearrangements, and fine atomic events in the process of zymogen activation.

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