5,10-Methylene-5,6,7,8-tetrahydrofolate conformational transitions upon binding to thymidylate synthase: Molecular mechanics and continuumsolvent studies

Adam Jarmuła, Piotr Cieplak, William R. Montfort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


We applied the molecular mechanics Poisson-Boltzmann surface area (MM-PBSA) approach to evaluate relative stability of the extended (flat) and C-shaped (bent) solution conformational forms of the 5,10-methylene-5,6,7,8-tetrahydrofolate (mTHF) molecule in aqueous solution. Calculations indicated that both forms have similar free energies in aqueous solution but detailed energy components are different. The bent solution form has lower intramolecular electrostatic and van der Waals interaction energies. The flat form has more favorable solvation free energy and lower contribution from the bond, angle and torsion angle molecular mechanical internal energies. We exploit these results and combine them with known crystallographic data to provide a model for the progressive binding of the mTHF molecule, a natural cofactor of thymidylate synthase (TS), to the complex forming in the TS-catalyzed reaction. We propose that at the time of initial weak binding in the open enzyme the cofactor molecule remains in a close balance between the flat and bent solution conformations, with neither form clearly favored. Later, thymidylate synthase undergoes conformational change leading to the closure of the active site and the mTHF molecule is withdrawn from the solvent. That effect shifts the thermodynamic equilibrium of the mTHF molecule toward the bent solution form. At the same time, burying the cofactor molecule in the closed active site produces numerous contacts between mTHF and protein that render change in the shape of the mTHF molecule. As a result, the bent solution conformer is converted to more strained L-shaped bent enzyme conformer of the mTHF molecule. The strain in the bent enzyme conformation allows for the tight binding of the cofactor molecule to the productive ternary complex that forms in the closed active site, and facilitates the protonation of the imidazolidine N10 atom, which promotes further reaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-136
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Computer-Aided Molecular Design
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2005


  • 5,10-methylene-5,6,7,8-tetrahydrofolate
  • Conformational transitions
  • Free energies in aqueous solution
  • Molecular mechanics Poisson-Boltzmann surface area (MM-PBSA) approach
  • Thymidylate synthase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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