How synonymous mutations alter enzyme structure and function over long timescales

Yang Jiang, Syam Sundar Neti, Ian Sitarik, Priya Pradhan, Philip To, Yingzi Xia, Stephen D. Fried, Squire J. Booker, Edward P. O’Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The specific activity of enzymes can be altered over long timescales in cells by synonymous mutations that alter a messenger RNA molecule’s sequence but not the encoded protein’s primary structure. How this happens at the molecular level is unknown. Here, we use multiscale modelling of three Escherichia coli enzymes (type III chloramphenicol acetyltransferase, d-alanine–d-alanine ligase B and dihydrofolate reductase) to understand experimentally measured changes in specific activity due to synonymous mutations. The modelling involves coarse-grained simulations of protein synthesis and post-translational behaviour, all-atom simulations to test robustness and quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics calculations to characterize enzymatic function. We show that changes in codon translation rates induced by synonymous mutations cause shifts in co-translational and post-translational folding pathways that kinetically partition molecules into subpopulations that very slowly interconvert to the native, functional state. Structurally, these states resemble the native state, with localized misfolding near the active sites of the enzymes. These long-lived states exhibit reduced catalytic activity, as shown by their increased activation energies for the reactions they catalyse. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-318
Number of pages11
JournalNature Chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)


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