Balancing Kinetic and Thermodynamic Control: The Mechanism of Carbocation Cyclization by Squalene Cyclase

Ramkumar Rajamani, Jiali Gao

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85 Scopus citations


Molecular dynamics simulations with a combined quantum mechanical and molecular mechanical (QM/MM) potential have been carried out to investigate the squalene-to-hopene carbocation cyclization mechanism in squalene-hopene cyclase (SHC). The present study is based on free energy simulations by constructing the free energy surface for the cyclization steps along the reaction pathway. The picture that emerges for the carbocation cyclization cascade is a delicate balance of thermodynamic and kinetic control that ultimately favors the formation of the final hopanoids carbon skeleton. A key finding is that the five- to six-membered ring expansion process is not a viable reaction pathway for either C- or D-ring formation in the cyclization reaction. The only significant intermediate is the A/B-bicyclic cyclohexyl cation (111), from which two asynchronous concerted reaction pathways lead to, respectively, the 6,6,6,5-tetracyclic carbon skeleton and the 6,6,6,6,5-pentacyclic hopanoids. Experimentally, these two products are observed to have 1% and 99% yields, respectively, in the wild-type enzyme. We conclude that the product distribution in the wild-type enzyme is dictated by kinetic control of these two reaction pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12768-12781
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 22 2003


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