Computational Modeling of the Disulfide Cross-Linking Reaction

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Journal of Physical Chemistry B


Disulfide cross-linking is one of the fundamental covalent bonds that exist prevalently in many biological molecules that is involved in versatile functional activities such as antibody stability, viral assembly, and protein folding. Additionally, it is a crucial factor in various industrial applications. Therefore, a fundamental understanding of its reaction mechanism would help gain insight into its different functional activities. Computational simulation of the disulfide cross-linking reaction with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) was performed at the integrated quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) level of theory in a water box under periodic boundary conditions. A benchmarking study for the barrier height of the disulfide formation step was performed on a model system between methanethiol and methane sulfenic acid to determine, for the QM system, the best-fit density functional theory (DFT) functional/basis set combination that produces comparable results to a higher-level theory of the coupled-cluster method. Computational results show that the disulfide cross-linking reaction with H2O2 reagent can proceed through a one-step or a two-step pathway for the high pKa cysteines or two different pathways for the low pKa cysteines to ultimately produce the sulfenic acid/sulfenate intermediate complex. Subsequently, those intermediates react with another neutral/anionic cysteine residue to form the cysteine product. In addition, the solvent-assisted proton-exchange/proton-transfer effects were examined on the energetic barriers for the different transition states, and the molecular contributions of the chemically involved water molecules were studied in detail.

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