The phosphobase methylation pathway catalyzed by the phosphoethanolamine methyltransferase in Plasmodium falciparum (PfPMT), the malaria parasite, offers an attractive target for anti-parasitic drug development. PfPMT methylates phosphoethanolamine (pEA) to phosphocholine for use in membrane biogenesis. Quantum mechanics and molecular mechanics (QM/MM) calculations tested the proposed reaction mechanism for methylation of pEA involving the previously identified Tyr-19-His-132 dyad, which indicated an energetically unfavorable mechanism. Instead, the QM/MM calculations suggested an alternative mechanism involving Asp-128. The reaction coordinate involves the stepwise transfer of a proton to Asp-128 via a bridging water molecule followed by a typical Sn2-type methyl transfer from S-adenosylmethionine to pEA. Functional analysis of the D128A, D128E, D128Q, and D128N PfPMT mutants shows a loss of activity with pEA but not with the final substrate of the methylation pathway. X-ray crystal structures of the PfPMT-D128A mutant in complex with S-adenosylhomocysteine and either pEA or phosphocholine reveal how mutation of Asp-128 disrupts a hydrogen bond network in the active site. The combined QM/MM, biochemical, and structural studies identify a key role for Asp-128 in the initial step of the phosphobase methylation pathway in Plasmodium and provide molecular insight on the evolution of multiple activities in the active site of the PMT.
Keywords: Computer Modeling; Crystallography; Enzyme Mechanism; Mutagenesis; Protein Structure.
© 2014 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.