GH-18 chitinases are chitinolytic enzymes, primarily responsible for the recycling of insoluble chitin biomaterials. These enzymes contain three invariant acidic active-site residues within a DXDXE motif, which play a synergistic role in the catalytic cycle of chitin degradation. We employed a pKa calculation approach to approximate the protonation states of residues D1, D2, and E in the DXDXE motif of 75 GH-18 chitinases. Theoretical pH-activity profiles of these enzymes were subsequently constructed and compared with the experimentally determined pH-activity profiles. Theoretical pKa data indicate that in the majority of chitinases the D1 side-chain is in the "up" and the E side-chain in the "down" position, while the position of the D2 side-chain is versatile and depends on the state of the enzyme. The pKa values in 75 GH-18 chitinases were predicted to be <0 for D1, 8-13 for D2, and 6-9 for E, indicating that the D1-D2 pair holds exactly one net negative charge. On the other hand, the catalytic acid E is protonated over the active pH-range, agreeing with the pH-activity curves reported previously for most chitinases. The results obtained from this study help to elucidate the mechanistic details of the concerted participation of D1, D2, and E in the catalytic cycle of chitin hydrolysis by GH-18 chitinases.
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