Qm/mm study of the active site of free papain and of the nma-papain complex

Wen Ge Han, Emadeddin Tajkhorshid, Sándor Suhai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hybrid quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) calculations using restricted and unrestricted Hartree-Fock and B3LYP ab initio (QM) and Amber force field (MM), respectively, have been applied to study the catalytic site of papain in both free and substrate bonded forms. Ab initio geometry optimizations have been performed for the active site of papain and the N-methyl-acetamide (NMA)-papain complex within the molecular mechanical treatment of the protein environment. A covalent tetrahedral intermediate structure could be obtained only when the amide N atom of the substrate molecule was protonated through a proton transfer from the His-159 in the catalytic site. Our results support the previous assumption that a proton transfer from His-159 to the amide N atom of the substrate occurs prior to or concerted with the nucleophilic attack of the Cys-25 sulfur atom to the carbonyl group of the substrate. The electron correlation effect will reduce the proton transfer barrier. Therefore, this proton transfer can be easily observed in the B3LYP/6-31G* calculations. The HF/6-31G* method overestimates the reaction barrier against this proton transfer. The sulfur atom of Cys-25 and the imidazole ring of His-159 are found to be coplanar in the free form of the enzyme. However, the rotation of the imidazole ring of His-159 was observed during the formation of the tetrahedral intermediate. Without the papain environment, the coplanar thiolate-imidazolium ion pair RS… ImH+ is much less stable than the neutral form of RSH…Im. Within the protein environment, however, the thiolate-imidazolium ion pair becomes more stable than its neutral form by 4.1 and 0.4 kcal/mol in HF/6-31G* and B3LYP/6-31G* calculations, respectively. The barrier of proton transfer from S-H group of Cys-25 to the imidazole ring of His-159 was reduced from 22.0 kcal/mol to 15.2 kcal/mol by the protein environment in HF/6-31G* calculations. This barrier is found to be much smaller (2.5 kcal/mol) in B3LYP/6-31G* calculations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1019-1032
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Qm/mm study of the active site of free papain and of the nma-papain complex'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this