NMR evidence for the participation of a low-barrier hydrogen bond in the mechanism of Δ5-3-ketosteroid isomerase

Qinjian Zhao, Chitrananda Abeygunawardana, Paul Talalay, Albert S. Mildvan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Δ5-3-Ketosteroid isomerase (EC promotes an allylic rearrangement involving intramolecular proton transfer via a dienolic intermediate. This enzyme enhances the catalytic rate by a factor of 1010. Two residues, Tyr-14, the general acid that polarizes the steroid 3-carbonyl group and facilitates enolization, and Asp-38 the general base that abstracts and transfers the 4β-proton to the 6β-position, contribute 104.7 and 105.6 to the rate increase, respectively. A major mechanistic enigma is the huge disparity between the pK(a) values of the catalytic groups and their targets. Upon binding of an analog of the dienolate intermediate to isomerase, proton NMR detects a highly deshielded resonance at 18.15 ppm in proximity to aromatic protons, and with a 3-fold preference for protium over deuterium (fractionation factor, φ = 0.34), consistent with formation of a short, strong (low-barrier) hydrogen bond to Tyr-14. The strength of this hydrogen bond is estimated to be at least 7.1 kcal/mol. This bond is relatively inaccessible to bulk solvent and is pH insensitive. Low-barrier hydrogen bonding of Tyr-14 to the intermediate, in conjunction with the previously demonstrated tunneling contribution to the proton transfer by Asp- 38, provide a plausible and quantitative explanation for the high catalytic power of this isomerase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8220-8224
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 6 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • catalysis
  • enolization
  • fractionation factor
  • ligand binding
  • proton transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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