Breaking Benzene Aromaticity-Computational Insights into the Mechanism of the Tungsten-Containing Benzoyl-CoA Reductase

J Am Chem Soc. 2017 Oct 18;139(41):14488-14500. doi: 10.1021/jacs.7b07012. Epub 2017 Oct 3.


Aromatic compounds are environmental pollutants with toxic and carcinogenic properties. Despite the stability of aromatic rings, bacteria are able to degrade the aromatic compounds into simple metabolites and use them as growth substrates under oxic or even under anoxic conditions. In anaerobic microorganisms, most monocyclic aromatic growth substrates are converted to the central intermediate benzoyl-coenzyme A, which is enzymatically reduced to cyclohexa-1,5-dienoyl-CoA. The strictly anaerobic bacterium Geobacter metallireducens uses the class II benzoyl-CoA reductase complex for this reaction. The catalytic BamB subunit of this complex harbors an active site tungsten-bis-pyranopterin cofactor with the metal being coordinated by five protein/cofactor-derived sulfur atoms and a sixth, so far unknown, ligand. Although BamB has been biochemically and structurally characterized, its mechanism still remains elusive. Here we use continuum electrostatic and QM/MM calculations to model benzoyl-CoA reduction by BamB. We aim to elucidate the identity of the sixth ligand of the active-site tungsten ion together with the interplay of the electron and proton transfer events during the aromatic ring reduction. On the basis of our calculations, we propose that benzoyl-CoA reduction is initiated by a hydrogen atom transfer from a W(IV) species with an aqua ligand, yielding W(V)-[OH-] and a substrate radical intermediate. In the next step, a proton-assisted second electron transfer takes place with a conserved active-site histidine serving as the second proton donor. Interestingly, our calculations suggest that the electron for the second reduction step is taken from the pyranopterin cofactors rather than from the tungsten ion. The resulting cationic radical, which is distributed over both pyranopterins, is stabilized by conserved anionic amino acid residues. The stepwise mechanism of the reduction shows similarities to the Birch reduction known from organic chemistry. However, the strict coupling of protons and electrons allows the reaction to proceed under milder conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acyl Coenzyme A / metabolism
  • Benzene / chemistry*
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Electron Transport
  • Geobacter / enzymology
  • Histidine / metabolism
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-CH Group Donors / chemistry
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-CH Group Donors / metabolism*
  • Protons
  • Pterins / metabolism
  • Quantum Theory
  • Tungsten / metabolism*


  • Acyl Coenzyme A
  • Protons
  • Pterins
  • pyranopterin
  • Histidine
  • benzoyl-coenzyme A
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-CH Group Donors
  • benzoyl-coenzyme A reductase (dearomatizing)
  • Benzene
  • Tungsten