High-level QM/MM calculations support the concerted mechanism for Michael addition and covalent complex formation in thymidylate synthase

Nopporn Kaiyawet, Richard Lonsdale, Thanyada Rungrotmongkol, Adrian J. Mulholland*, Supot Hannongbua

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Thymidylate synthase (TS) is a promising cancer target, due to its crucial function in thymine synthesis. It performs the reductive methylation of 2′-deoxyuridine-5′-phosphate (dUMP) to thymidine-5′-phosphate (dTMP), using N-5,10-methylene-5,6,7,8-tetrahydrofolate (mTHF) as a cofactor. After the formation of the dUMP/mTHF/TS noncovalent complex, and subsequent conformational activation, this complex has been proposed to react via nucleophilic attack (Michael addition) by Cys146, followed by methylene-bridge formation to generate the ternary covalent intermediate. Herein, QM/MM (B3LYP-D/6-31+G(d)-CHARMM27) methods are used to model the formation of the ternary covalent intermediate. A two-dimensional potential energy surface reveals that the methylene-bridged intermediate is formed via a concerted mechanism, as indicated by a single transition state on the minimum energy pathway and the absence of a stable enolate intermediate. A range of different QM methods (B3LYP, MP2 and SCS-MP2, and different basis sets) are tested for the calculation of the activation energy barrier for the formation of the methylene-bridged intermediate. We test convergence of the QM/MM results with respect to size of the QM region. Inclusion of Arg166, which interacts with the nucleophilic thiolate, in the QM region is important for reliable results; the MM model apparently does not reproduce energies for distortion of the guanidinium side chain correctly. The spin component scaled-Møller-Plessett perturbation theory (SCS-MP2) approach was shown to be in best agreement (within 1.1 kcal/mol) while the results obtained with MP2 and B3LYP also yielded acceptable values (deviating by less than 3 kcal/mol) compared with the barrier derived from experiment. Our results indicate that using a dispersion-corrected DFT method, or a QM method with an accurate treatment of electron correlation, increases the agreement between the calculated and experimental activation energy barriers, compared with the semiempirical AM1 method. These calculations provide important insight into the reaction mechanism of TS and may be useful in the design of new TS inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-722
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Chemical Theory and Computation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2015


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