The catalytic aspartate is protonated in the Michaelis complex formed between trypsin and an in vitro evolved substrate-like inhibitor: A refined mechanism of serine protease action

Weixiao Yuan Wahlgren, Gábor Pál, József Kardos, Pálma Porrogi, Borbála Szenthe, András Patthy, László Gráf, Gergely Katona

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The mechanism of serine proteases prominently illustrates how charged amino acid residues and proton transfer events facilitate enzyme catalysis. Here we present an ultrahigh resolution (0.93Å ) x-ray structure of a complex formed between trypsin and a canonical inhibitor acting through a substrate-like mechanism. The electron density indicates the protonation state of all catalytic residues where the catalytic histidine is, as expected, in its neutral state prior to the acylation step by the catalytic serine. The carboxyl group of the catalytic aspartate displays an asymmetric electron density so that the Oδ2-Cγ bond appears to be a double bond, with Oδ2 involved in a hydrogen bond to His-57 and Ser-214. Only when Asp-102 is protonated on Oδ1 atom could a density functional theory simulation reproduce the observed electron density. The presence of a putative hydrogen atom is also confirmed by a residual mF obs - DFcalc density above 2.5 σ next to O δ1. As a possible functional role for the neutral aspartate in the active site, we propose that in the substrate-bound form, the neutral aspartate residue helps to keep the pKa of the histidine sufficiently low, in the active neutral form. When the histidine receives a proton during the catalytic cycle, the aspartate becomes simultaneously negatively charged, providing additional stabilization for the protonated histidine and indirectly to the tetrahedral intermediate. This novel proposal unifies the seemingly conflicting experimental observations, which were previously seen as either supporting the charge relay mechanism or the neutral pKa histidine theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3587-3596
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Feb 4 2011


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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