Experimental and Modeling Studies of an Unusual Water-Filled Pore Structure with Possible Mechanistic Implications in Family 48 Cellulases

Molecular dynamics simulations were used to study the possible catalytic role of an unusual conserved water-filled pore structure in the family 48 cellulase enzyme Cel48A from Thermobifida fusca. It was hypothesized that this pore serves as the pathway for the water molecules consumed in the hydrolysis catalyzed by the enzyme to reach the active site in a continuous stream to participate in the processive reactions. Theoretical mutants of this enzyme were created in which all of the residues lining the pore were made hydrophobic, which had the effect in molecular dynamics simulations of emptying the pore of water molecules and preventing any from passing through the pore on the simulation time scale. Mutants with smaller numbers of substitutions of this nature, which could be created experimentally by site-directed mutagenesis, were also identified from simulations, and these proteins were subsequently produced in Escherichia coli, expressed and purified, but were found to not fold in a manner similar to the wild type protein, preventing the determination of the importance of the water pore for activity. It is possible that the presence of a small vacuum in the pore was responsible for the instability of the mutants. In addition, alternate pathways were observed in the simulations that would allow water molecules to reach the active site of the enzyme, suggesting that the hypothesis that the pore has functional significance might be incorrect.