Molecular dynamics simulations of apocupredoxins: insights into the formation and stabilization of copper sites under entatic control
Cupredoxins perform copper-mediated long-range electron transfer (ET) in biological systems. Their copper-binding sites have evolved to force copper ions into ET-competent systems with decreased reorganization energy, increased reduction potential, and a distinct electronic structure compared with those of non-ET-competent copper complexes. The entatic or rack-induced state hypothesis explains these special properties in terms of the strain that the protein matrix exerts on the metal ions. This idea is supported by X-ray structures of apocupredoxins displaying "closed" arrangements of the copper ligands like those observed in the holoproteins; however, it implies completely buried copper-binding atoms, conflicting with the notion that they must be exposed for copper loading. On the other hand, a recent work based on NMR showed that the copper-binding regions of apocupredoxins are flexible in solution. We have explored five cupredoxins in their "closed" apo forms through molecular dynamics simulations. We observed that prearranged ligand conformations are not stable as the X-ray data suggest, although they do form part of the dynamic landscape of the apoproteins. This translates into variable flexibility of the copper-binding regions within a rigid fold, accompanied by fluctuations of the hydrogen bonds around the copper ligands. Major conformations with solvent-exposed copper-binding atoms could allow initial binding of the copper ions. An eventual subsequent incursion to the closed state would result in binding of the remaining ligands, trapping the closed conformation thanks to the additional binding energy and the fastening of noncovalent interactions that make up the rack.