A Thermophilic Bacterial Esterase for Scavenging Nerve Agents: A Kinetic, Biophysical and Structural Study

Molecules. 2021 Jan 27;26(3):657. doi: 10.3390/molecules26030657.


Organophosphorous nerve agents (OPNA) pose an actual and major threat for both military and civilians alike, as an upsurge in their use has been observed in the recent years. Currently available treatments mitigate the effect of the nerve agents, and could be vastly improved by means of scavengers of the nerve agents. Consequently, efforts have been made over the years into investigating enzymes, also known as bioscavengers, which have the potential either to trap or hydrolyze these toxic compounds. We investigated the previously described esterase 2 from Thermogutta terrifontis (TtEst2) as a potential bioscavenger of nerve agents. As such, we assessed its potential against G-agents (tabun, sarin, and cyclosarin), VX, as well as the pesticide paraoxon. We report that TtEst2 is a good bioscavenger of paraoxon and G-agents, but is rather slow at scavenging VX. X-ray crystallography studies showed that TtEst2 forms an irreversible complex with the aforementioned agents, and allowed the identification of amino-acids, whose mutagenesis could lead to better scavenging properties for VX. In conjunction with its cheap production and purification processes, as well as a robust structural backbone, further engineering of TtEst2 could lead to a stopgap bioscavenger useful for in corpo scavenging or skin decontamination.

Keywords: X-ray crystallography; bioscavenger; esterase; nerve agents; thermophilic.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Crystallography, X-Ray / methods
  • Esterases / chemistry*
  • Kinetics
  • Nerve Agents / chemistry*
  • Organophosphates / chemistry
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / chemistry
  • Paraoxon / chemistry
  • Planctomycetales / chemistry*
  • Planctomycetes
  • Sarin / chemistry


  • Amino Acids
  • Nerve Agents
  • Organophosphates
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Sarin
  • Esterases
  • Paraoxon
  • tabun
  • cyclohexyl methylphosphonofluoridate

Supplementary concepts

  • Thermogutta terrifontis