Molecular dynamics suggest multifunctionality of an adenine imino group in acid-base catalysis of the hairpin ribozyme
Despite numerous structural and biochemical investigations, the catalytic mechanism of hairpin ribozyme self-cleavage remains elusive. To gain insight into the coupling of active site dynamics with activity of this small catalytic RNA, we analyzed a total of similar to 300 ns of molecular dynamics ( MD) simulations. Our simulations predict improved global stability for an in vitro selected "gain of function'' mutation, which is validated by native gel electrophoretic mobility shift assay. We observe that active site nucleobases and water molecules stabilize a geometry favorable to catalysis through a dynamic hydrogen bonding network. Simulations in which A38 is unprotonated show its N1 move into close proximity of the active site 2'-OH, indicating that A38 may act as a general base during cleavage, a role that has generally been discounted due to the longer distances observed in crystal structures involving inactivating substrate analogs. By contrast, simulations in which N1 of A38 is protonated place N1 in close proximity to the 5'-oxygen leaving group, which supports the proposal that A38 serves as a general acid. In analogy to protein enzymes, we discuss a plausible mechanism in which A38 acts bifunctionally and shuttles a proton directly from the 2'-OH to the 5'-oxygen. Furthermore, our simulations suggest an important role for protonation of N1 of A38 in promoting a favorable geometry similar to that observed in transition-state analog crystal structures, and support previously proposed roles of A38, G8, and long residency water molecules in transition-state stabilization.