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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 11;105(45):17328-33. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0809838105. Epub 2008 Nov 6.

Uroporphyrinogen decarboxylation as a benchmark for the catalytic proficiency of enzymes.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


The magnitude of an enzyme's affinity for the altered substrate in the transition state exceeds its affinity for the substrate in the ground state by a factor matching the rate enhancement that the enzyme produces. Particularly remarkable are those enzymes that act as simple protein catalysts, without the assistance of metals or other cofactors. To determine the extent to which one such enzyme, human uroporphyrinogen decarboxylase, enhances the rate of substrate decarboxylation, we examined the rate of spontaneous decarboxylation of pyrrolyl-3-acetate. Extrapolation of first-order rate constants measured at elevated temperatures indicates that this reaction proceeds with a half-life of 2.3 x 10(9) years at 25 degrees C in the absence of enzyme. This enzyme shows no significant homology with orotidine 5'-monophosphate decarboxylase (ODCase), another cofactorless enzyme that catalyzes a very slow reaction. It is proposed that, in both cases, a protonated basic residue (Arg-37 in the case of human UroD; Lys-93 in the case of yeast ODCase) furnishes a counterion that helps the scissile carboxylate group of the substrate leave water and enter a relatively nonpolar environment, stabilizes the incipient carbanion generated by the departure of CO(2), and supplies the proton that takes its place.

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