Extreme electric fields power catalysis in the active site of ketosteroid isomerase

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Science  19 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6216, pp. 1510-1514
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259802

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Enzymes use protein architecture to impose specific electrostatic fields onto their bound substrates, but the magnitude and catalytic effect of these electric fields have proven difficult to quantify with standard experimental approaches. Using vibrational Stark effect spectroscopy, we found that the active site of the enzyme ketosteroid isomerase (KSI) exerts an extremely large electric field onto the C=O chemical bond that undergoes a charge rearrangement in KSI’s rate-determining step. Moreover, we found that the magnitude of the electric field exerted by the active site strongly correlates with the enzyme’s catalytic rate enhancement, enabling us to quantify the fraction of the catalytic effect that is electrostatic in origin. The measurements described here may help explain the role of electrostatics in many other enzymes and biomolecular systems.

Stark influence on reaction rates

Enzymes accelerate chemical processes by coaxing molecules into just the right reactive states. Fried et al. now elucidate the way the enzyme ketosteroid isomerase pushes its substrate toward product through exertion of a local electric field (see the Perspective by Hildebrandt). First the authors calibrated the shifts in molecular vibrational frequencies, known as Stark shifts, that fields of varying strength impose on a substrate analog; then they measured the vibrational spectrum of that compound in the enzyme's active site. The experiment uncovered an unusually strong field that the local enzyme structure directed to the precise spot where the substrate would react.

Science, this issue p. 1510; see also p. 1456

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