Chorismate mutase is at the centre of current controversy about fundamental features of biological catalysts. Some recent studies have proposed that catalysis in this enzyme does not involve transition state (TS) stabilization but instead is due largely to the formation of a reactive conformation of the substrate. To understand the origins of catalysis, it is necessary to compare equivalent reactions in different environments. The pericyclic conversion of chorismate to prephenate catalysed by chorismate mutase also occurs (much more slowly) in aqueous solution. In this study we analyse the origins of catalysis by comparison of multiple quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) reaction pathways at a reliable, well tested level of theory (B3LYP/6-31G(d)/CHARMM27) for the reaction (i) in Bacillus subtilischorismate mutase (BsCM) and (ii) in aqueous solvent. The average calculated reaction (potential energy) barriers are 11.3 kcal mol−1 in the enzyme and 17.4 kcal mol−1 in water, both of which are in good agreement with experiment. Comparison of the two sets of reaction pathways shows that the reaction follows a slightly different reaction pathway in the enzyme than in it does in solution, because of a destabilization, or strain, of the substrate in the enzyme. The substrate strain energy within the enzyme remains constant throughout the reaction. There is no unique reactive conformation of the substrate common to both environments, and the transition state structures are also different in the enzyme and in water. Analysis of the barrier heights in each environment shows a clear correlation between TS stabilization and the barrier height. The average differential TS stabilization is 7.3 kcal mol−1 in the enzyme. This is significantly higher than the small amount of TS stabilization in water (on average only 1.0 kcal mol−1 relative to the substrate). The TS is stabilized mainly by electrostatic interactions with active site residues in the enzyme, with Arg90, Arg7 and Glu78 generally the most important. Conformational effects (e.g. strain of the substrate in the enzyme) do not contribute significantly to the lower barrier observed in the enzyme. The results show that catalysis is mainly due to better TS stabilization by the enzyme.
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