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Biophys J. 2019 Jan 22;116(2):205-214. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2018.09.035. Epub 2018 Dec 8.

Mechanisms for Benzene Dissociation through the Excited State of T4 Lysozyme L99A Mutant.

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Schrödinger, Inc., San Diego, California. Electronic address:
Schrödinger, Inc., San Diego, California.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California.
Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California.
Relay Therapeutics, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California. Electronic address:


The atomic-level mechanisms that coordinate ligand release from protein pockets are only known for a handful of proteins. Here, we report results from accelerated molecular dynamics simulations for benzene dissociation from the buried cavity of the T4 lysozyme Leu99Ala mutant (L99A). In these simulations, benzene is released through a previously characterized, sparsely populated room-temperature excited state of the mutant, explaining the coincidence for experimentally measured benzene off rate and apo protein slow-timescale NMR relaxation rates between ground and excited states. The path observed for benzene egress is a multistep ligand migration from the buried cavity to ultimate release through an opening between the F/G-, H-, and I-helices and requires a number of cooperative multiresidue and secondary-structure rearrangements within the C-terminal domain of L99A. These rearrangements are identical to those observed along the ground state to excited state transitions characterized by molecular dynamic simulations run on the Anton supercomputer. Analyses of the molecular properties of the residues lining the egress path suggest that protein surface electrostatic potential may play a role in the release mechanism. Simulations of wild-type T4 lysozyme also reveal that benzene-egress-associated dynamics in the L99A mutant are potentially exaggerations of the substrate-processivity-related dynamics of the wild type.

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