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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jun 3;105(22):7726-31. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0800580105. Epub 2008 May 28.

Electrostatic basis for the unidirectionality of the primary proton transfer in cytochrome c oxidase.

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


Gaining detailed understanding of the energetics of the proton-pumping process in cytochrome c oxidase (CcO) is one of the challenges of modern biophysics. Despite promising mechanistic proposals, most works have not related the activation barriers of the different assumed steps to the protein structure, and there has not been a physically consistent model that reproduced the barriers needed to create a working pump. This work reevaluates the activation barriers for the primary proton transfer (PT) steps by calculations that reflect all relevant free energy contributions, including the electrostatic energies of the generated charges, the energies of water insertion, and large structural rearrangements of the donor and acceptor. The calculations have reproduced barriers that account for the directionality and sequence of events in the primary PT in CcO. It has also been found that the PT from Glu-286 (E) to the propionate of heme a(3) (Prd) provides a gate for an initial back leakage from the high pH side of the membrane. Interestingly, the rotation of E that brings it closer to Prd appears to provide a way for blocking competing pathways in the primary PT. Our study elucidates and quantifies the nature of the control of the directionality in the primary PT in CcO and provides instructive insight into the role of the water molecules in biological PT, showing that "bridges" of several water molecules in hydrophobic regions present a problem (rather than a solution) that is minimized in the primary PT.

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