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J Antibiot (Tokyo). 2016 Jul;69(7):486-93. doi: 10.1038/ja.2016.39. Epub 2016 Apr 13.

General base-general acid catalysis by terpenoid cyclases.

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Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories, Department of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.


Terpenoid cyclases catalyze the most complex reactions in biology, in that more than half of the substrate carbon atoms often undergo changes in bonding during the course of a multistep cyclization cascade that proceeds through multiple carbocation intermediates. Many cyclization mechanisms require stereospecific deprotonation and reprotonation steps, and most cyclization cascades are terminated by deprotonation to yield an olefin product. The first bacterial terpenoid cyclase to yield a crystal structure was pentalenene synthase from Streptomyces exfoliatus UC5319. This cyclase generates the hydrocarbon precursor of the pentalenolactone family of antibiotics. The structures of pentalenene synthase and other terpenoid cyclases reveal predominantly nonpolar active sites typically lacking amino acid side chains capable of serving general base-general acid functions. What chemical species, then, enables the Brønsted acid-base chemistry required in the catalytic mechanisms of these enzymes? The most likely candidate for such general base-general acid chemistry is the co-product inorganic pyrophosphate. Here, we briefly review biological and nonbiological systems in which phosphate and its derivatives serve general base and general acid functions in catalysis. These examples highlight the fact that the Brønsted acid-base activities of phosphate derivatives are comparable to the Brønsted acid-base activities of amino acid side chains.

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