The chemistry of active-site cysteine residues is central to the activity of thiol-disulfide oxidoreductases of the thioredoxin superfamily. In these reactions, a nucleophilic thiolate is required, but the associated pK(a), values differ vastly in the superfamily, from less than 4 in DsbA to greater than 7 in Trx. The factors that stabilize this thiolate are, however, not clearly established. The glutaredoxins (Grxs), which are members of this superfamily, contain a Cys-Pro-Tyr-Cys motif in their active site. In reduced Grxs, the pK(a) of the N-terminal active-site nucleophilic cysteine residue is lowered significantly, and the stabilization of the corresponding thiolate is expected to influence the redox potential of these enzymes. Here, we use a combination of long molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, pK(a) calculations, and experimental investigations to derive the structure and dynamics of the reduced active site from Escherichia coli Grx3, and investigate the factors that stabilize the thiolate. Several different MD simulations converged toward a consensus conformation for the active-site cysteine residues (Cys11 and Cys14), after a number of local conformational changes. Key features of the model were tested experimentally by measurement of NMR scalar coupling constants, and determination of pK(a) values of selected residues. The pK(a) values of the Grx3 active-site residues were calculated during the MD simulations, and support the underlying structural model. The structure of Grx3, in combination with the pK(a) calculations, indicate that the pK(a) of the N-terminal active-site cysteine residue in Grx3 is intermediate between that of its counterpart in DsbA and Trx. The pK(a) values in best agreement with experiment are obtained with a low (<4) protein dielectric constant. The calculated pK(a) values fluctuate significantly in response to protein dynamics, which underscores the importance of the details of the underlying structures when calculating pK(a) values. The thiolate of Cys11 is stabilized primarily by direct hydrogen bonding with the amide protons of Tyr13 and Cys14 and the thiol proton of Cys14, rather than by long range interactions from charged groups or from a helix macrodipole. From the comparison of reduced Grx3 with other members of the thioredoxin superfamily, a unifying theme for the structural basis of thiol pK(a) differences in this superfamily begins to emerge.
2001. Vol. 310, no 2, 449-470 p.