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J Phys Chem B. 2010 Jul 15;114(27):8994-9001. doi: 10.1021/jp100961s.

A tale of two acids: when arginine is a more appropriate acid than H3O+.

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REQUIMTE, Faculdade de Ciências da Saúde, Universidade Fernando Pessoa, Rua Carlos da Maia, 296, 4200-150 Porto, Portugal.


Uroporphyrinogen III decarboxylase catalyzes the fifth step in heme biosynthesis, the elimination of carboxyl groups from the four acetate side chains of uroporphyrinogen III to yield coproporphyrinogen III. We have previously found that the rate-limiting step of uroporphyrinogen III decarboxylase is substrate protonation rather than the decarboxylation reaction. This protonation can be effected by an arginine residue (Arg37) in close proximity to the substrate. In this report, we present evidence for the function of this arginine residue as a general acid catalyst. Although substrate protonation by H(3)O(+) is both exergonic and very fast, our density functional calculations show that in the presence of a protonated Arg37 substrate, decarboxylation becomes rate-limiting, and the substrate spontaneously breaks upon protonation. These results suggest that the active site must be shielded from solvent protons. Consequently, H(3)O(+) can be excluded from a role in both protonations proposed for the enzyme mechanism. In agreement with these conclusions, a second arginine residue (Arg41) is uniquely positioned to act as donor of the second proton, with an activation barrier below 2 kcal mol(-1). Generated mutant uroporphyrinogen III decarboxylase variants carrying amino acid exchanges in the position of both arginine residues (R41A, R41K, R37A, and R37K) failed to produce coproporphyrinogen III. The proposed unusual use of two basic residues as general acids in two different proton donation steps by uroporphyrinogen III decarboxylase provides an elegant solution to the problem of simultaneously binding the very negative uroporphyrinogen (which requires a positively charged active site), and selectively protonating it while preventing excessive carboxylate stabilization by positive charges.

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