Background: The microscopic events of ribonuclease (RNase) catalyzed phosphoryl transfer reactions are still a matter of debate in which the contenders adhere to either the classical concerted acid-base mechanism or a more sequential triester-like mechanism. In the case of RNase A, small thio-effects of the nonbridging oxygens have been invoked in favor of the classical mechanism. However, the RNase T1 catalyzed transphosphorylation of phosphorothioate RNA is highly stereoselective. R(P) thio-substituted RNA is depolymerized 60000 times faster than S(P) thio-substituted RNA by this enzyme, whereas the uncatalyzed cleavage of both substrates occurs at comparable rates. We combined site-directed mutagenesis in the RNase active site and stereospecific thio-substitution of an RNA substrate to probe the intermolecular interactions of the enzyme with the nonbridging pro-S(P) oxygen that bring about this stereoselectivity of RNase T1.
Results: Thio-substitution of the nonbridging pro-S(P) oxygen in the substrate afflicts chemical turnover but not ground state binding whereas thio-substitution of the nonbridging pro-R(P) oxygen does not affect the kinetics of RNase T1. Site-directed mutagenesis of the catalytic base Glu58 impairs the enzyme's ability to discriminate both phosphorothioate diastereomers. Glu58Ala RNase T1 cleaves R(P) and S(P) phosphorothioate RNA with similar rates. The dependence of the pro-S(P) thio-effect on the presence of the Glu58 carboxylate evidences a strong rate-limiting interaction between the nonbridging pro-S(P) oxygen and the catalytic base Glu58 in the wild type enzyme.
Conclusions: Based on these results, we put forward a new triester-like mechanism for the RNase T1 catalyzed reaction that involves a three-centered hydrogen bond between the 2'-OH group, the nonbridging pro-S(P) oxygen and one of the carboxylate oxygens of Glu58. This interaction allows nucleophilic attack on an activated phosphate to occur simultaneously with general base catalysis, ensuring concerted phosphoryl transfer via a triester-like mechanism.