Role of dynamics in enzyme catalysis: substantial versus semantic controversies

Acc Chem Res. 2015 Feb 17;48(2):466-73. doi: 10.1021/ar500322s. Epub 2014 Dec 24.


CONSPECTUS: The role of the enzyme's dynamic motions in catalysis is at the center of heated contemporary debates among both theoreticians and experimentalists. Resolving these apparent disputes is of both intellectual and practical importance: incorporation of enzyme dynamics could be critical for any calculation of enzymatic function and may have profound implications for structure-based drug design and the design of biomimetic catalysts. Analysis of the literature suggests that while part of the dispute may reflect substantial differences between theoretical approaches, much of the debate is semantic. For example, the term "protein dynamics" is often used by some researchers when addressing motions that are in thermal equilibrium with their environment, while other researchers only use this term for nonequilibrium events. The last cases are those in which thermal energy is "stored" in a specific protein mode and "used" for catalysis before it can dissipate to its environment (i.e., "nonstatistical dynamics"). This terminology issue aside, a debate has arisen among theoreticians around the roles of nonstatistical vs statistical dynamics in catalysis. However, the author knows of no experimental findings available today that examined this question in enzyme catalyzed reactions. Another source of perhaps nonsubstantial argument might stem from the varying time scales of enzymatic motions, which range from seconds to femtoseconds. Motions at different time scales play different roles in the many events along the catalytic cascade (reactant binding, reprotonation of reactants, structural rearrangement toward the transition state, product release, etc.). In several cases, when various experimental tools have been used to probe catalytic events at differing time scales, illusory contradictions seem to have emerged. In this Account, recent attempts to sort the merits of those questions are discussed along with possible future directions. A possible summary of current studies could be that enzyme, substrate, and solvent dynamics contribute to enzyme catalyzed reactions in several ways: first via mutual "induced-fit" shifting of their conformational ensemble upon binding; then via thermal search of the conformational space toward the reaction's transition-state (TS) and the rare event of the barrier crossing toward products, which is likely to be on faster time scales then the first and following events; and finally via the dynamics associated with products release, which are rate-limiting for many enzymatic reactions. From a chemical perspective, close to the TS, enzymatic systems seem to stiffen, restricting motions orthogonal to the chemical coordinate and enabling dynamics along the reaction coordinate to occur selectively. Studies of how enzymes evolved to support those efficient dynamics at various time scales are still in their infancy, and further experiments and calculations are needed to reveal these phenomena in both enzymes and uncatalyzed reactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biocatalysis*
  • Enzymes / chemistry
  • Enzymes / metabolism*
  • Formate Dehydrogenases / chemistry
  • Formate Dehydrogenases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Semantics*
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase / chemistry
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase / metabolism


  • Enzymes
  • Formate Dehydrogenases
  • Tetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase