The researchers discovered a crucial change as the system they were studying fell into the acidic range of the pH scale (below 6). The hydronium ion that could be seen facilitating the binding of a metal ion cofactor crucial to the conversion of the sugar molecule into its fermentable form suddenly became dehydratedthink of water, H2O, being removed from hydronium, H3O+. The space occupied by the relatively large hydronium ion collapsed into a tiny volume occupied by the remaining proton (a positively charged hydrogen ion, H+). This spatial change in the molecular structure prevented the sugar from being attacked by the enzyme.
The observed phenomenon provided an answer about why pH plays such an important role in the process and renders the enzyme inactive under acidic conditions. More important, it definitively illustrated that the hydronium ion plays a key role in the transport of protons in these types of biochemical systems.
"This is something that has never been seen before," said Los Alamos researcher Andrey Kovalevsky, principal author of the paper. "This proves that hydronium is the active chemical agent in our studies of the catalytic mechanism of enzymes."
The research has broad implications for the possible role of hydronium ions in other biological systems. In addition to acid reflux disease, the research may help provide a better understanding of metabolic transfer of energy in living cells or living organisms.
|Contact: James E. Rickman|
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory