Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

August 2011


Reaction centers (RCs) are integral membrane proteins that undergo a series of electron transfer reactions during the process of photosynthesis. In the QA site of RCs from Rhodobacter sphaeroides, ubiquinone-10 is reduced, by a single electron transfer, to its semiquinone. The neutral quinone and anionic semiquinone have similar affinities, which is required for correct in situ reaction thermodynamics. A previous study showed that despite similar affinities, anionic quinones associate and dissociate from the QA site at rates ≈104 times slower than neutral quinones indicating that anionic quinones encounter larger binding barriers (Madeo, J.; Gunner, M. R. Modeling binding kinetics at the QA site in bacterial reaction centers. Biochemistry2005, 44, 10994–11004). The present study investigates these barriers computationally, using steered molecular dynamics (SMD) to model the unbinding of neutral ground state ubiquinone (UQ) and its reduced anionic semiquinone (SQ–) from the QA site. In agreement with experiment, the SMD unbinding barrier for SQ– is larger than for UQ. Multi Conformational Continuum Electrostatics (MCCE), used here to calculate the binding energy, shows that SQ– and UQ have comparable affinities. In the QA site, there are stronger binding interactions for SQ– compared to UQ, especially electrostatic attraction to a bound non-heme Fe2+. These interactions compensate for the higher SQ– desolvation penalty, allowing both redox states to have similar affinities. These additional interactions also increase the dissociation barrier for SQ– relative to UQ. Thus, the slower SQ– dissociation rate is a direct physical consequence of the additional binding interactions required to achieve a QA site affinity similar to that of UQ. By a similar mechanism, the slower association rate is caused by stronger interactions between SQ– and the polar solvent. Thus, stronger interactions for both the unbound and bound states of charged and highly polar ligands can slow their binding kinetics without a conformational gate. Implications of this for other systems are discussed.


This work was originally published in Journal of the American Chemical Society, available at doi:10.1021/ja205811f.



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