Mechanistic Insights on Heme-to-Heme Transmembrane Electron Transfer Within NADPH Oxydases From Atomistic Simulations

Front Chem. 2021 May 4;9:650651. doi: 10.3389/fchem.2021.650651. eCollection 2021.


NOX5 is a member of the NADPH oxidase family which is dedicated to the production of reactive oxygen species. The molecular mechanisms governing transmembrane electron transfer (ET) that permits to shuttle electrons over the biological membrane have remained elusive for a long time. Using computer simulations, we report conformational dynamics of NOX5 embedded within a realistic membrane environment. We assess the stability of the protein within the membrane and monitor the existence of cavities that could accommodate dioxygen molecules. We investigate the heme-to-heme electron transfer. We find a reaction free energy of a few tenths of eV (ca. -0.3 eV) and a reorganization free energy of around 1.1 eV (0.8 eV after including electrostatic induction corrections). The former indicates thermodynamically favorable ET, while the latter falls in the expected values for transmembrane inter-heme ET. We estimate the electronic coupling to fall in the range of the μeV. We identify electron tunneling pathways showing that not only the W378 residue is playing a central role, but also F348. Finally, we reveal the existence of two connected O2-binding pockets near the outer heme with fast exchange between the two sites on the nanosecond timescale. We show that when the terminal heme is reduced, O2 binds closer to it, affording a more efficient tunneling pathway than when the terminal heme is oxidized, thereby providing an efficient mechanism to catalyze superoxide production in the final step. Overall, our study reveals some key molecular mechanisms permitting reactive oxygen species production by NOX5 and paves the road for further investigation of ET processes in the wide family of NADPH oxidases by computer simulations.

Keywords: Marcus theory of electron transfer; NADPH oxydase; electron tunneling; membrane protein; molecular dynamics simulations (MD simulations); reaction free energies.