Screening of the active site from water by the incoming ligand triggers catalysis and inhibition in serine proteases

Michael Shokhen, Netaly Khazanov, Amnon Albeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The pKa of the catalytic His57 NεH in the tetrahedral complex (TC) of chymotrypsin with trifluoromethyl ketone inhibitors is 4-5 units higher relative to the free enzyme (FE). Such stable TC's, formed with transition state (TS) analog inhibitors, are topologically similar to the catalytic TS. Thus, analysis of this pKa shift may shed light on the role of water solvation in the general base catalysis by histidine. We applied our QM/SCRF(VS) approach to study this shift. The method enables explicit quantum mechanical DFT calculations of large molecular clusters that simulate chemical reactions at the active site (AS) of water solvated enzymes. We derived an analytical expression for the pKa dependence on the degree of water exposure of the ionizable group, and on the total charge in the enzyme AS, Q(A) and Q(B), when the target ionizable functional group (His57 in this study) is in the acidic (A) and basic (B) forms, respectively. Q2(B) > Q2(A) both in the FE and in the TC of chymotrypsin. Therefore, water solvation decreases the relative stability of the protonated histidine in both. Ligand binding reduces the degree of water solvation of the imidazole ring, and consequently elevates the histidine pKa. Thus, the binding of the ligand plays a triggering role that switches on the cascade of catalytic reactions in serine proteases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1578-1587
Number of pages10
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Density functional calculations
  • Enzyme catalysis
  • Enzyme mechanism
  • QM/MM
  • Solvation model
  • Transition state analog inhibitors
  • Virtual solvent


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