Probing Carbohydrate Product Expulsion from a Processive Cellulase with Multiple Absolute Binding Free Energy Methods

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Understanding the enzymatic mechanism that cellulases employ to degrade cellulose is critical to efforts to efficiently utilize plant biomass as a sustainable energy resource. A key component of cellulase action on cellulose is product inhibition from monosaccharide and disaccharides in the product site of cellulase tunnel. The absolute binding free energy of cellobiose and glucose to the product site of the catalytic tunnel of the Family 7 cellobiohydrolase (Cel7A) of Trichoderma reesei (Hypocrea jecorina) was calculated using two different approaches: steered molecular dynamics (SMD) simulations and alchemical free energy perturbation molecular dynamics (FEP/ MD) simulations. For the SMD approach, three methods based on Jarzynski's equality were used to construct the potential of mean force from multiple pulling trajectories. The calculated binding free energies, -14.4 kcal/mol using SMD and -11.2 kcal/mol using FEP/MD, are in good qualitative agreement. Analysis of the SMD pulling trajectories suggests that several protein residues (Arg-251, Asp-259, Asp-262, Trp-376, and Tyr-381) play key roles in cellobiose and glucose binding to the catalytic tunnel. Five mutations (R251A, D259A, D262A, W376A, and Y381A) were made computationally to measure the changes in free energy during the product expulsion process. The absolute binding free energies of cellobiose to the catalytic tunnel of these five mutants are -13.1, -6.0, -11.5, -7.5, and -8.8 kcal/mol, respectively. The results demonstrated that all of the mutants tested can lower the binding free energy of cellobiose, which provides potential applications in engineering the enzyme to accelerate the product expulsion process and improve the efficiency of biomass conversion.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)18161-18169
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number20
StatePublished - 2011

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-51331


  • biochemical conversion
  • cellulase


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