Understanding the Effect of Magnesium Ion Concentration on the Catalytic Activity of Ribonuclease H through Computation: Does a Third Metal Binding Site Modulate Endonuclease Catalysis?

Matteo Dal Peraro
Journal paper

Ribonuclease H (RNase H) belongs to the nucleotidyl-transferase superfamily and hydrolyzes the phosphodiester linkage on the RNA strand of a DNA/RNA hybrid duplex. Due to its activity in HIV reverse transcription, it represents a promising target for anti-HIV drug design. While crystallographic data have located two ions in the catalytic site, there is ongoing debate concerning just how many metal ions bound at the active site are optimal for catalysis. Indeed, experiments have shown a dependency of the catalytic activity on the Mg2+ concentration. Moreover, in RNase H, the glutamate residue E188 has been shown to be essential for full enzymatic activation, regardless of the Mg2+ concentration. The catalytic center is known to contain two Mg2+ ions, and E188 is not one of the primary metal ligands. Herein, classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations are employed to study the metal-ligand coordination in RNase H at different concentration of Mg2+. Importantly, the presence of a third Mg2+ ion, bound to the second-shell ligand E188, is a persistent feature of the MD simulations. Free energy calculations have identified two distinct conformations, depending on the concentration of Mg2+. At standard concentration, a third Mg2+ is found in the catalytic pocket, but it does not perturb the optimal RNase H active conformation. However, at higher concentration, the third Mg2+ ion heavily perturbs the nucleophilic water and thereby influences the catalytic efficiency of RNase H. In addition, the E188A mutant shows no ability to engage additional Mg2+ ions near the catalytic pocket. This finding likely explains the decrease in catalytic activity of E188A and also supports the key role of E188 in localizing the third Mg2+ ion at the active site. Glutamate residues are commonly found surrounding the metal center in the endonuclease family, which suggests that this structural motif may be an important feature to enhance catalytic activity. The present MD calculations support the hypothesis that RNase H can accommodate three divalent metal ions in its catalytic pocket and provide an in-depth understanding of their dynamic role for catalysis.

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