Thursday, March 15, 2012

QM/MM vs. QM-only studies of large cluster models

How large must a quantum model of an enzyme active site be to achieve optimum results? Proponents of the so-called "cluster model" argue that, most often, good results may be obtained even with small models (< 100 atoms). Fahmi Himo has repeatedly shown that fully including the first layer of aminoacids surrounding the reacting substrate (i.e. to about 150 atoms) yields results that are insensitive to the inclusion of a polarizable-continuum solvent field, and has concluded from these data that such models are sufficient to capture all the relevant enzymatic effexts on catalysis.

Walter Thiel has now published a QM/MM analysis of the reaction mechanism of acetylene hydratase (previously studied by Fahmi Himo using increasingly large QM-only models). Inclusion of the surrounding protein dramatically changed the results for the largest model studied by Himo, due to the absence (in the "cluster model") of two negatively charged phosphate groups adjacent to the active site. Although these charges are quite "shielded" from the active site because of neighbouring positively-charged amino acids, they originate local charge assymmetries that interact differently with the active site during each step of the catalytic cycle. This effect is quite similar to the major influence of the internal protein dipoles on enzyme catalysis expounded by Arieh Warshel, and should be kept in mind by all of us who tend to prefer the QM-only approach: a polarizable-continuum model assumes a homogeneous environment surrounding the QM system, and in proteins "it ain't necessarily so".