How is acetylcholinesterase phosphonylated by Soman? An ab initio QM/MM molecular dynamics study

Gulseher Sarah Sirin, Yingkai Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is a crucial enzyme in the cholinergic nerve system that hydrolyzes acetylcholine (ACh) and terminates synaptic signals by reducing the effective concentration of ACh in the synaptic clefts. Organophosphate compounds irreversibly inhibit AChEs, leading to irreparable damage to nerve cells. By employing Born-Oppenheimer ab initio QM/MM molecular dynamics simulations with umbrella sampling, a state-of-the-art approach to simulate enzyme reactions, we have characterized the covalent inhibition mechanism between AChE and the nerve toxin soman and determined its free energy profile for the first time. Our results indicate that phosphonylation of the catalytic serine by soman employs an addition-elimination mechanism, which is highly associative and stepwise: in the initial addition step, which is also rate-limiting, His440 acts as a general base to facilitate the nucleophilic attack of Ser200 on the soman's phosphorus atom to form a trigonal bipyrimidal pentacovalent intermediate; in the subsequent elimination step, Try121 of the catalytic gorge stabilizes the leaving fluorine atom prior to its dissociation from the active site. Together with our previous characterization of the aging mechanism of soman inhibited AChE, our simulations have revealed detailed molecular mechanistic insights into the damaging function of the nerve agent soman.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9132-9139
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry A
Issue number39
StatePublished - Oct 2 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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