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Di-iron hydrogenases are a class of enzymes that are capable of reducing protons to form molecular hydrogen with high efficiency. In addition to the catalytic site, these enzymes have evolved dedicated pathways to transport protons and electrons to the reaction center. Here, we present a detailed study of the most likely proton transfer pathway in such an enzyme using QM/MM molecular dynamics simulations. The protons are transported through a channel lined out from the protein exterior to the di-iron active site, by a series of hydrogen-bonded, weakly acidic or basic, amino acids and two incorporated water molecules. The channel shows remarkable flexibility, which is an essential feature to quickly reset the hydrogen-bond direction in the channel after each proton passing. Proton transport takes place via a "hole" mechanism, rather than an excess proton mechanism, the free energy landscape of which is remarkably flat, with a highest transition state barrier of only 5 kcal/mol. These results confirm our previous assumptions that proton transport is not rate limiting in the H2 formation activity and that cysteine C299 may be considered protonated at physiological pH conditions. Detailed understanding of this proton transport may aid in the ongoing attempts to design artificial biomimetic hydrogenases for hydrogen fuel production.


Rakesh C Puthenkalathil, Bernd Ensing. Fast Proton Transport in FeFe Hydrogenase via a Flexible Channel and a Proton Hole Mechanism. The journal of physical chemistry. B. 2022 Jan 20;126(2):403-411

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PMID: 35007078

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