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Caulkins, B. G.; Young, R. P.; Kudla, R. A.; Yang, C.; Bittbauer, T. J.; Bastin, B.; Marsella, M. J.; Dunn, M. F.; Mueller, L. J. 2016. NMR Crystallography of a Carbanionic Intermediate in Tryptophan Synthase: Chemical Structure, Tautomerization, and Reaction Specificity. Journal of the American Chemical Society 138: 15214-15226. Full Article

Carbanionic intermediates play a central role in the catalytic transformations of amino acids performed by pyridoxal-5′-phosphate (PLP)-dependent enzymes. Here, we make use of NMR crystallography – the synergistic combination of solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance, X-ray crystallography, and computational chemistry – to interrogate a carbanionic/quinonoid intermediate analogue in the β-subunit active site of the PLP-requiring enzyme tryptophan synthase. The solid-state NMR chemical shifts of the PLP pyridine ring nitrogen and additional sites, coupled with first-principles computational models, allow a detailed model of protonation states for ionizable groups on the cofactor, substrates, and nearby catalytic residues to be established. Most significantly, we find that a deprotonated pyridine nitrogen on PLP precludes formation of a true quinonoid species and that there is an equilibrium between the phenolic and protonated Schiff base tautomeric forms of this intermediate. Natural bond orbital analysis indicates that the latter builds up negative charge at the substrate Cα and positive charge at C4′ of the cofactor, consistent with its role as the catalytic tautomer. These findings support the hypothesis that the specificity for β-elimination/replacement versus transamination is dictated in part by the protonation states of ionizable groups on PLP and the reacting substrates and underscore the essential role that NMR crystallography can play in characterizing both chemical structure and dynamics within functioning enzyme active sites.

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