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The Importance of the Scaffold for de Novo Enzymes: A Case Study with Kemp Eliminase


We report electric field values relevant to the reactant and transition states of designed Kemp eliminases KE07 and KE70 and their improved variants from laboratory directed evolution (LDE), using atomistic simulations with the AMOEBA polarizable force field. We find that the catalytic base residue contributes the most to the electric field stabilization of the transition state of the LDE variants of the KE07 and KE70 enzymes, whereas the electric fields of the remainder of the enzyme and solvent disfavor the catalytic reaction in both cases. By contrast, we show that the electrostatic environment plays a large and stabilizing role for the naturally occurring enzyme ketosteroid isomerase (KSI). These results suggest that LDE is ultimately a limited strategy for improving de novo enzymes since it is largely restricted to optimization of chemical positioning in the active site, thus yielding a ∼3 order magnitude improvement over the uncatalyzed reaction, which we suggest may be an absolute upper bound estimate based on LDE applied to comparable de novo Kemp eliminases and other enzymes like KSI. Instead de novo enzymatic reactions could more productively benefit from optimization of the electrostatics of the protein scaffold in early stages of the computational design, utilizing electric field optimization as guidance.

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