Reflections on biocatalysis involving phosphorus.

G M Blackburn, M W Bowler, Yi Jin, J P Waltho

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Early studies on chemical synthesis of biological molecules can be seen to progress to preparation and biological evaluation of phosphonates as analogues of biological phosphates, with emphasis on their isosteric and isopolar character. Work with such mimics progressed into structural studies with a range of nucleotide-utilising enzymes. The arrival of metal fluorides as analogues of the phosphoryl group, PO(3)(-), for transition state (TS) analysis of enzyme reactions stimulated the symbiotic deployment of (19)F NMR and protein crystallography. Characteristics of enzyme transition state analogues are reviewed for a range of reactions. From the available MF(x) species, trifluoroberyllate gives tetrahedral mimics of ground states (GS) in which phosphate is linked to carboxylate and phosphate oxyanions. Tetrafluoroaluminate is widely employed as a TS mimic, but it necessarily imposes octahedral geometry on the assembled complexes, whereas phosphoryl transfer involves trigonal bipyramidal (tbp) geometry. Trifluoromagnesate (MgF(3)(-)) provides the near-ideal solution, delivering tbp geometry and correct anionic charge. Some of the forty reported tbp structures assigned as having AlF(3)(0) cores have been redefined as trifluoromagnesate complexes. Transition state analogues for a range of kinases, mutases, and phosphatases provide a detailed description of mechanism for phosphoryl group transfer, supporting the concept of charge balance in their TS and of concerted-associative pathways for biocatalysis. Above all, superposition of GS and TS structures reveals that in associative phosphoryl transfer, the phosphorus atom migrates through a triangle of three, near-stationary, equatorial oxygens. The extension of these studies to near attack conformers further illuminates enzyme catalysis of phosphoryl transfer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1083-1096
Number of pages13
JournalBiochemistry. Biokhimii︠a︡
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • Afluorophosphonates
  • Kinases
  • Metal fluorides
  • Mutases
  • NACs
  • Nucleotide analogues
  • Phosphate esters
  • Transition state analogues


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