Coupling between protonation and conformation in cytochrome c oxidase: Insights from constant-pH MD simulations

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Cytochrome c oxidases (CcOs) are the terminal enzymes of the respiratory chain in mitochondria and most bacteria. These enzymes reduce dioxygen (O2) to water and, simultaneously, generate a transmembrane electrochemical proton gradient. Despite their importance in the aerobic metabolism and the large amount of structural and biochemical data available for the A1-type CcO family, there is still no consensually accepted description of the molecular mechanisms operating in this protein. A substantial number of questions about the CcO's working mechanism remain to be answered, including how the protonation behavior of some key residues is modulated during a reduction cycle and how is the conformation of the protein affected by protonation. The main objective of this work was to study the protonation-conformation coupling in CcOs and identify the molecular factors that control the protonation state of some key residues. In order to directly capture the interplay between protonation and conformational effects, we have performed constant-pH MD simulations of an A1-type CcO inserted into a lipid bilayer in two redox states (oxidized and reduced) at physiological pH. From the simulations, we were able to identify several groups with unusual titration behavior that are highly dependent on the protein redox state, including the A-propionate from heme a and the D-propionate from heme a3, two key groups possibly involved in proton pumping. The protonation state of these two groups is heavily influenced by subtle conformational changes in the protein (notably of R481I and R482I) and by small changes in the hydrogen bond network.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)759-771
Number of pages13
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta-Bioenergetics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Computer simulation
  • Constant pH molecular dynamics (constant-pH MD) simulations
  • Cytochrome c oxidase
  • Proton transfer
  • Protonation-conformation coupling
  • Redox-dependent change


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