Integration of kinetic isotope effect analyses to elucidate ribonuclease mechanism

Michael E. Harris, Joseph A. Piccirilli, Darrin M. York

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The well-studied mechanism of ribonuclease A is believed to involve concerted general acid-base catalysis by two histidine residues, His12 and His119. The basic features of this mechanism are often cited to explain rate enhancement by both protein and RNA enzymes that catalyze RNA 2′-O-transphosphorylation. Recent kinetic isotope effect analyses and computational studies are providing a more chemically detailed description of the mechanism of RNase A and the rate limiting transition state. Overall, the results support an asynchronous mechanism for both solution and ribonuclease catalyzed reactions in which breakdown of a transient dianoinic phosphorane intermediate by 5′O-P bond cleavage is rate limiting. Relative to non-enzymatic reactions catalyzed by specific base, a smaller KIE on the 5′O leaving group and a less negative βLG are observed for RNase A catalysis. Quantum mechanical calculations consistent with these data support a model in which electrostatic and H-bonding interactions with the non-bridging oxygens and proton transfer from His119 render departure of the 5′O less advanced and stabilize charge buildup in the transition state. Both experiment and computation indicate advanced 2′O-P bond formation in the rate limiting transition state. However, this feature makes it difficult to resolve the chemical steps involved in 2′O activation. Thus, modeling the transition state for RNase A catalysis underscores those elements of its chemical mechanism that are well resolved, as well as highlighting those where ambiguity remains. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Enzyme Transition States from Theory and Experiment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1801-1808
Number of pages8
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Proteins and Proteomics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


  • Enzyme catalysis
  • Kinetic isotope effect
  • Ribonuclease
  • Transition state


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