Complexity in pH-Dependent Ribozyme Kinetics: Dark pKa Shifts and Wavy Rate-pH Profiles

Erica A. Frankel, Philip C. Bevilacqua

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Charged bases occur in RNA enzymes, or ribozymes, where they play key roles in catalysis. Cationic bases donate protons and perform electrostatic catalysis, while anionic bases accept protons. We previously published simulations of rate-pH profiles for ribozymes in terms of species plots for the general acid and general base that have been useful for understanding how ribozymes respond to pH. In that study, we did not consider interaction between the general acid and general base or interaction with other species on the RNA. Since that report, diverse small ribozyme classes have been discovered, many of which have charged nucleobases or metal ions in the active site that can either directly interact and participate in catalysis or indirectly interact as "influencers". Herein, we simulate experimental rate-pH profiles in terms of species plots in which reverse protonated charged nucleobases interact. These analyses uncover two surprising features of pH-dependent enzyme kinetics. (1) Cooperativity between the general acid and general base enhances population of the functional forms of a ribozyme and manifests itself as hidden or "dark" pKa shifts, real pKa shifts that accelerate the reaction but are not readily observed by standard experimental approaches, and (2) influencers favorably shift the pKas of proton-transferring nucleobases and manifest themselves as "wavy" rate-pH profiles. We identify parallels with the protein enzyme literature, including reverse protonation and wavelike behavior, while pointing out that RNA is more prone to reverse protonation. The complexities uncovered, which arise from simple pairwise interactions, should aid deconvolution of complex rate-pH profiles for RNA and protein enzymes and suggest veiled catalytic devices for promoting catalysis that can be tested by experiment and calculation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-488
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 6 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry


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