Role of the active site guanine in the glmS ribozyme self-cleavage mechanism: Quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical free energy simulations

Sixue Zhang, Abir Ganguly, Puja Goyal, Jamie L. Bingaman, Philip C. Bevilacqua, Sharon Hammes-Schiffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The glmS ribozyme catalyzes a self-cleavage reaction at the phosphodiester bond between residues A-1 and G1. This reaction is thought to occur by an acid-base mechanism involving the glucosamine-6-phosphate cofactor and G40 residue. Herein quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical free energy simulations and pKa calculations, as well as experimental measurements of the rate constant for self-cleavage, are utilized to elucidate the mechanism, particularly the role of G40. Our calculations suggest that an external base deprotonates either G40(N1) or possibly A-1(O2′), which would be followed by proton transfer from G40(N1) to A-1(O2′). After this initial deprotonation, A-1(O2′) starts attacking the phosphate as a hydroxyl group, which is hydrogen-bonded to deprotonated G40, concurrent with G40(N1) moving closer to the hydroxyl group and directing the in-line attack. Proton transfer from A-1(O2′) to G40 is concomitant with attack of the scissile phosphate, followed by the remainder of the cleavage reaction. A mechanism in which an external base does not participate, but rather the proton transfers from A-1(O2′) to a nonbridging oxygen during nucleophilic attack, was also considered but deemed to be less likely due to its higher effective free energy barrier. The calculated rate constant for the favored mechanism is in agreement with the experimental rate constant measured at biological Mg2+ ion concentration. According to these calculations, catalysis is optimal when G40 has an elevated pKa rather than a pKa shifted toward neutrality, although a balance among the pKa's of A-1, G40, and the nonbridging oxygen is essential. These results have general implications, as the hammerhead, hairpin, and twister ribozymes have guanines at a similar position as G40.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)784-798
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 21 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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