Does the pressure dependence of kinetic isotope effects report usefully on dynamics in enzyme H-transfer reactions?

R Hoeven, D. J. Heyes, S Hay, NS Scrutton

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    The temperature dependence of kinetic isotope effects (KIEs) has emerged as the main experimental probe of enzymatic H-transfer by quantum tunnelling. Implicit in the interpretation is a presumed role for dynamic coupling of H-transfer chemistry to the protein environment, the so-called ‘promoting motions/vibrations hypothesis’. This idea remains contentious, and others have questioned the importance and/or existence of promoting motions/vibrations. New experimental methods of addressing this problem are emerging, including use of mass-modulated enzymes and time-resolved spectroscopy. The pressure dependence of KIEs has been considered as a potential probe of quantum tunnelling reactions, because semi-classical KIEs, which are defined by differences in zero-point vibrational energy, are relatively insensitive to kbar changes in pressure. Reported combined pressure and temperature (p-T) dependence studies of H-transfer reactions are, however, limited. Here, we extend and review the available p-T studies that have utilized well-defined experimental systems in which quantum mechanical tunnelling is established. These include flavoproteins, quinoproteins, light-activated enzymes and chemical model systems. We show that there is no clear general trend between the p-T dependencies of the KIEs in these systems. Given the complex nature of p-T studies, we conclude that computational simulations using determined (e.g. X-ray) structures are also needed alongside experimental measurements of reaction rates/KIEs to guide the interpretation of p-T effects. In providing new insight into H-transfer/environmental coupling, combined approaches that unite both atomistic understanding with experimental rate measurements will require careful evaluation on a case-by-case basis. Although individually informative, we conclude that p-T studies do not provide the more generalized insight that has come from studies of the temperature dependence of KIEs.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3243-3255
    Number of pages12
    JournalThe FEBS Journal
    Issue number16
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    • dynamics
    • flavoprotein
    • hydrogen transfer
    • pressure
    • quantum tunnelling


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