Microscopic basis for kinetic gating in cytochrome c oxidase: insights from QM/MM analysis
Understanding the mechanism of vectorial proton pumping in biomolecules requires establishing the microscopic basis for the regulation of both thermodynamic and kinetic features of the relevant proton transfer steps. For the proton pump cytochrome c oxidase, while the regulation of thermodynamic driving force for key proton transfers has been discussed in great detail, the microscopic basis for the control of proton transfer kinetics has been poorly understood. Here we carry out extensive QM/MM free energy simulations to probe the kinetics of relevant proton transfer steps and analyze the effects of local structure and hydration level. We show that protonation of the proton loading site (PLS, taken to be a propionate of heme a3) requires a concerted process in which a key glutamic acid (Glu286H) delivers the proton to the PLS while being reprotonated by an excess proton coming from the D-channel. The concerted nature of the mechanism is a crucial feature that enables the loading of the PLS before the cavity containing Glu286 is better hydrated to lower its pKa to experimentally measured range; the charged rather than dipolar nature of the process also ensures a tight coupling with heme a reduction, as emphasized by Siegbahn and Blomberg. In addition, we find that rotational flexibility of the PLS allows its protonation before that of the binuclear center (the site where oxygen gets reduced to water). Together with our recent study (P. Goyal, et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 2013, 110, 18886–18891) that focused on the modulation of Glu286 pKa, the current work suggests a mechanism that builds in a natural sequence for the protonation of the PLS prior to that of the binuclear center. This provides microscopic support to the kinetic constraints revealed by kinetic network analysis as essential elements that ensure an efficient vectorial proton transport in cytochrome c oxidase.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Energy and Physical Chemistry