Explorations in enzymology: investigating dynamics in dihydrofolate reductase



Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2011

Access Restrictions

Access restricted to UI faculty, staff and students.

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Kohen, Amnon

First Committee Member

Fuentes, Ernesto J

Second Committee Member

Geng, Lei

Third Committee Member

Gloer, James B

Fourth Committee Member

Quinn, Daniel M


The relationship between enzyme dynamics and enzymatic catalysis has become a central topic in modern enzymology, and studies in this area promise to enrich our current understanding of catalysis in biological systems. Escherichia coli dihydrofolate reductase (EcDHFR) has been a frequent subject of study in the context of protein dynamics, due to its small size, biological ubiquity, and the fact that its structural, kinetic and mechanistic characteristics are well established. Intrinsic kinetic isotope effects (KIEs) have proven to be highly sensitive probes of the role of dynamics in EcDHFR catalyzed reaction, as they circumvent the kinetic complexity of the enzyme-catalyzed reactions, and extract information directly pertaining to the chemical step. Previously, studies of their temperature-dependence were used to probe the effect of mutations at residues distant from the active site upon the hydride-transfer reaction catalyzed by EcDHFR. The results of these experiments supported the presence of a network of residues that were dynamically linked to the hydride-transfer step, and were in excellent agreement with computational studies predicting the presence of such a network. This thesis aims to extend upon these results to study the nature and extent of the dynamic network in EcDHFR, both by using an established experimental methods and by developing new biophysical probes of protein dynamics in this system. The major experimental methodology utilized in the following chapters is the determination and analysis of KIEs in a variety of EcDHFR mutants. To facilitate these measurements, new synthetic routes to a range of isotopically labeled nicotinamide cofactors have been developed. Some of the labeled materials have been used to establish a sensitive, triple-isotope technique to competitively measure deuterium isotope effects in enzyme-catalyzed reactions in EcDHFR. Synthesized materials were usd to measure the temperature dependence of intrinsic KIEs in selected dynamically altered mutants of EcDHFR, viz. W133F and F125M DHFR. Crystal structures have been obtained for both these mutants as well as for the previously studied G121V isozyme, and the combination of kinetic and structural information discussed in the context of catalytically important dynamic fluctuations in EcDHFR. Pressure-dependence of deuterium KIEs is also developed as a tool to probe the role of dynamics and tunneling in the EcDHFR reaction, with the ultimate aim of establishing high-pressure KIE measurements as a complementary method to variable temperature measurements. Finally, molecular recognition force spectroscopy (MRFS) measurements of an EcDHFR self-assembled monolayer (SAM) on gold are described. The surprisingly active enzymatic SAM has been shown to be a promising platform for future MRFS experiments to measure the forces involved in EcDHFR dynamics. All together, these studies advanced our ability to study the role of enzyme dynamics and quantum tunneling in enhancing their chemistry.


catalysis, crystallography, DHFR, dynamics, enzymes, KIE


2, xiii, 116 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 103-116).


Copyright 2011 Arundhuti Sen