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J Phys Chem B. 2008 Jul 17;112(28):8387-97. doi: 10.1021/jp800168z. Epub 2008 Jun 10.

pKa of residue 66 in Staphylococal nuclease. I. Insights from QM/MM simulations with conventional sampling.

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Department of Chemistry and Theoretical Chemistry Institute University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1101 University Ave, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


A combined quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) potential function is used in a thermodynamic integration approach to calculate the pK(a) of residue 66 in two mutants (V66E, V66D) of Staphylococal nuclease relative to solution. Despite the similarity in chemical nature and experimentally measured pK(a) of the two buried titritable residues, the behaviors of the two mutants and the computed pK(a) values vary greatly in the simulations. For Glu66, the side chain is consistently observed to spontaneously flip out from the protein interior during titration, and the overall protein structure remains stable throughout the simulations. The computed pK(a) shifts using conventional sampling techniques with multiple nanoseconds per lambda window (Set A and B) are generally close to the experimental value, therefore indicating that large-scale conformational rearrangements are not as important for V66E as suggested by the recent study of Warshel and co-worker. For Asp66, by contrast, flipping of the shorter side chain is not sufficient for getting adequate solvent stabilization of the ionized state. As a result, more complex behaviors such as partial unfolding of a nearby beta-sheet region is observed, and the computed pK(a) shift is substantially higher than the experimental value unless Asp66 is biased to adopt the similar configurations as Glu66 in the V66E simulations. Collectively, these studies suggest that the lack of electronic polarization is not expected to be the dominant source of error in microscopic pK(a) shift calculations, while the need of enhanced sampling is more compelling for predicting the pK(a) of buried residues. Furthermore, the comparison between V66E and V66D also highlights that the microscopic interpretation of similar apparent pK(a) values and effective "dielectric constants" of proteins can vary greatly in terms of the residues that make key contributions and the scale of structural/hydration response to titration, the latter of which is difficult to predict a priori. Perturbative analyses of interactions that contribute to the titration free energy point to mutants that can be used to verify the microscopic mechanisms of titration in V66E/D SNase proteins.

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