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Snake venom metalloproteinases (SVMPs) are important drug targets against snakebite envenoming, the neglected tropical disease with the highest mortality worldwide. Here, we focus on Russell's viper (Daboia russelii), one of the "big four" snakes of the Indian subcontinent that, together, are responsible for ca. 50,000 fatalities annually. The "Russell's viper venom factor X activator" (RVV-X), a highly toxic metalloproteinase, activates the blood coagulation factor X (FX), leading to the prey's abnormal blood clotting and death. Given its tremendous public health impact, the WHO recognized an urgent need to develop efficient, heat-stable, and affordable-for-all small-molecule inhibitors, for which a deep understanding of the mechanisms of action of snake's principal toxins is fundamental. In this study, we determine the catalytic mechanism of RVV-X by using a density functional theory/molecular mechanics (DFT:MM) methodology to calculate its free energy profile. The results showed that the catalytic process takes place via two steps. The first step involves a nucleophilic attack by an in situ generated hydroxide ion on the substrate carbonyl, yielding an activation barrier of 17.7 kcal·mol-1, while the second step corresponds to protonation of the peptide nitrogen and peptide bond cleavage with an energy barrier of 23.1 kcal·mol-1. Our study shows a unique role played by Zn2+ in catalysis by lowering the pKa of the Zn2+-bound water molecule, enough to permit the swift formation of the hydroxide nucleophile through barrierless deprotonation by the formally much less basic Glu140. Without the Zn2+ cofactor, this step would be rate-limiting.


Juliana Castro-Amorim, Ana Oliveira, Ashis K Mukherjee, Maria J Ramos, Pedro A Fernandes. Unraveling the Reaction Mechanism of Russell's Viper Venom Factor X Activator: A Paradigm for the Reactivity of Zinc Metalloproteinases? Journal of chemical information and modeling. 2023 Jul 10;63(13):4056-4069

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PMID: 37092784

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