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Long-Range Electrostatics-Induced Two-Proton Transfer Captured by Neutron Crystallography in an Enzyme Catalytic Site

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Angewandte Chemie
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Neutron crystallography was used to directly locate two protons before and after a pH-induced two-proton transfer between catalytic aspartic acid residues and the hydroxy group of the bound clinical drug darunavir, located in the catalytic site of enzyme HIV-1 protease. The two-proton transfer is triggered by electrostatic effects arising from protonation state changes of surface residues far from the active site. The mechanism and pH effect are supported by quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) calculations. The low-pH proton configuration in the catalytic site is deemed critical for the catalytic action of this enzyme and may apply more generally to other aspartic proteases. Neutrons therefore represent a superb probe to obtain structural details for proton transfer reactions in biological systems at a truly atomic level.