Ribozyme catalysis with a twist: the active state of the twister ribozyme in solution predicted from molecular simulation

Journal of the American Chemical Society vol. 138  p. 3058-3065  DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b12061
PMID/PMCID: PMC4904722 Published: 2016-03-09 

Colin S. Gaines, Darrin M. York [ ]

  View Full Article
 Download PDF


We present results from molecular dynamics simulations and free energy calculations of the twister ribozyme at different stages along the reaction path in order to gain insight into its mechanism. Results, together with recent biochemical experiments, provide support for a mechanism involving general acid catalysis by a conserved adenine residue in the active site. Although adenine has been previously implicated as a general acid acting through the N1 position in other ribozymes such as the hairpin and VS ribozymes, in the twister ribozyme there may be - a twist. Biochemical experiments suggest that general acid catalysis may occur through the N3 position, which has never before been implicated in this role; however, there currently lacks a detailed structural model for the active state of the twister ribozyme in solution that is consistent with these and other experiments. Simulations in a crystalline environment reported here are consistent with X-ray crystallographic data, and suggest that crystal packing contacts trap the RNA in an inactive conformation with U-1 in an extruded state that is incompatible with an in-line attack to the scissile phosphate. Simulations in solution, on the other hand, reveal this region to be dynamic and able to adopt a conformation where U-1 is stacked with G33. In this state, the nucleophile is in line with the scissile phosphate, and the N1 position of G33 and N3 position of A1 are poised to act as general base and acid, respectively, as supported by mutational experiments. Free energy calculations further predict the electrostatic environment causes a shift of the microscopic pKa at the N3 position of A1 toward neutrality by approximately 5 pKa units. These results offer a unified interpretation of a broad range of currently available experimental data that points to a novel mode of general acid catalysis through the N3 position of an adenine nucleobase, thus expanding the repertoire of known mechanistic strategies employed by small nucleolytic ribozymes.