Large-scale QM/MM in enzymology: COMT

Hybrid quantum mechanical–molecular mechanical (QM/MM) simulations are widely used in studies of enzymatic catalysis. Until recently, it has been cost prohibitive to determine the asymptotic limit of key energetic and structural properties with respect to increasingly large QM regions. Leveraging recent advances in electronic structure efficiency and accuracy, we investigate catalytic properties in catechol O-methyltransferase, a prototypical methyltransferase critical to human health. Using QM regions ranging in size from reactants-only (64 atoms) to nearly one-third of the entire protein (940 atoms), we show that properties such as the activation energy approach within chemical accuracy of the large-QM asymptotic limits rather slowly, requiring approximately 500–600 atoms if the QM residues are chosen simply by distance from the substrate. This slow approach to asymptotic limit is due to charge transfer from protein residues to the reacting substrates. Our large QM/MM calculations enable identification of charge separation for fragments in the transition state as a key component of enzymatic methyl transfer rate enhancement. We introduce charge shift analysis that reveals the minimum number of protein residues (approximately 11–16 residues or 200–300 atoms for COMT) needed for quantitative agreement with large-QM simulations. The identified residues are not those that would be typically selected using criteria such as chemical intuition or proximity. These results provide a recipe for a more careful determination of QM region sizes in future QM/MM studies of enzymes. Check out our recent paper here, which has been selected as an ACS Editor's choice! See also our earlier collaborative work on mutagenesis effects here and the dynamics of substrate positioning in COMT here! Also check out our liveslides about this work here:

About Us

The Kulik group focuses on the development and application of new electronic structure methods and atomistic simulations tools in the broad area of catalysis.

Our Interests

We are interested in transition metal chemistry, with applications from biological systems (i.e. enzymes) to nonbiological applications in surface science and molecular catalysis.

Our Focus

A key focus of our group is to understand mechanistic features of complex catalysts and to facilitate and develop tools for computationally driven design.

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