Accounts of chemical research

NMR crystallography of enzyme active sites: probing chemically detailed, three-dimensional structure in tryptophan synthase.

PMID 23537227


NMR crystallography--the synergistic combination of X-ray diffraction, solid-state NMR spectroscopy, and computational chemistry--offers unprecedented insight into three-dimensional, chemically detailed structure. Initially, researchers used NMR crystallography to refine diffraction data from organic and inorganic solids. Now we are applying this technique to explore active sites in biomolecules, where it reveals chemically rich detail concerning the interactions between enzyme site residues and the reacting substrate. Researchers cannot achieve this level of detail from X-ray, NMR,or computational methodologies in isolation. For example, typical X-ray crystal structures (1.5-2.5 Å resolution) of enzyme-bound intermediates identify possible hydrogen-bonding interactions between site residues and substrate but do not directly identify the protonation states. Solid-state NMR can provide chemical shifts for selected atoms of enzyme-substrate complexes, but without a larger structural framework in which to interpret them only empirical correlations with local chemical structure are possible. Ab initio calculations and molecular mechanics can build models for enzymatic processes, but they rely on researcher-specified chemical details. Together, however, X-ray diffraction, solid-state NMR spectroscopy, and computational chemistry can provide consistent and testable models for structure and function of enzyme active sites: X-ray crystallography provides a coarse framework upon which scientists can develop models of the active site using computational chemistry; they can then distinguish these models by comparing calculated NMR chemical shifts with the results of solid-state NMR spectroscopy experiments. Conceptually, each technique is a puzzle piece offering a generous view of the big picture. Only when correctly pieced together, however, can they reveal the big picture at the highest possible resolution. In this Account, we detail our first steps in the development of NMR crystallography applied to enzyme catalysis. We begin with a brief introduction to NMR crystallography and then define the process that we have employed to probe the active site in the β-subunit of tryptophan synthase with unprecedented atomic-level resolution. This approach has resulted in a novel structural hypothesis for the protonation state of the quinonoid intermediate in tryptophan synthase and its surprising role in directing the next step in the catalysis of L-Trp formation.