Journal of Molecular Biology vol. 423 p. 106-122 DOI: 10.1016/j.jmb.2012.06.035
PMID/PMCID: PMC3509952 Published: 2012-10-12
L1 ligase (L1L) molecular switch is an in vitro optimized synthetic allosteric ribozyme that catalyzes the regioselective formation of a 5'-to-3' phosphodiester bond, a reaction for which there is no known naturally occurring RNA catalyst. L1L serves as a proof of principle that RNA can catalyze a critical reaction for prebiotic RNA self-replication according to the RNA world hypothesis. L1L crystal structure captures two distinct conformations that differ by a reorientation of one of the stems by around 80 Å and are presumed to correspond to the active and inactive state, respectively. It is of great interest to understand the nature of these two states in solution and the pathway for their interconversion. In this study, we use explicit solvent molecular simulation together with a novel enhanced sampling method that utilizes concepts from network theory to map out the conformational transition between active and inactive states of L1L. We find that the overall switching mechanism can be described as a three-state/two-step process. The first step involves a large-amplitude swing that reorients stem C. The second step involves the allosteric activation of the catalytic site through distant contacts with stem C. Using a conformational space network representation of the L1L switch transition, it is shown that the connection between the three states follows different topographical patterns: the stem C swing step passes through a narrow region of the conformational space network, whereas the allosteric activation step covers a much wider region and a more diverse set of pathways through the network.