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J Biol Chem. 2013 Apr 26;288(17):12175-86. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.462465. Epub 2013 Mar 15.

Computational investigation of the pH dependence of loop flexibility and catalytic function in glycoside hydrolases.

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National Bioenergy Center, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado 80401, USA.


Cellulase enzymes cleave glycosidic bonds in cellulose to produce cellobiose via either retaining or inverting hydrolysis mechanisms, which are significantly pH-dependent. Many fungal cellulases function optimally at pH ~5, and their activities decrease dramatically at higher or lower pH. To understand the molecular-level implications of pH in cellulase structure, we use a hybrid, solvent-based, constant pH molecular dynamics method combined with pH-based replica exchange to determine the pK(a) values of titratable residues of a glycoside hydrolase (GH) family 6 cellobiohydrolase (Cel6A) and a GH family 7 cellobiohydrolase (Cel7A) from the fungus Hypocrea jecorina. For both enzymes, we demonstrate that a bound substrate significantly affects the pKa values of the acid residues at the catalytic center. The calculated pK(a) values of catalytic residues confirm their proposed roles from structural studies and are consistent with the experimentally measured apparent pKa values. Additionally, GHs are known to impart a strained pucker conformation in carbohydrate substrates in active sites for catalysis, and results from free energy calculations combined with constant pH molecular dynamics suggest that the correct ring pucker is stable near the optimal pH for both Cel6A and Cel7A. Much longer molecular dynamics simulations of Cel6A and Cel7A with fixed protonation states based on the calculated pK(a) values suggest that pH affects the flexibility of tunnel loops, which likely affects processivity and substrate complexation. Taken together, this work demonstrates several molecular-level effects of pH on GH enzymes important for cellulose turnover in the biosphere and relevant to biomass conversion processes.

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