Inhibitors tethered near the acetylcholinesterase active site serve as molecular rulers of the peripheral and acylation sites

Joseph L. Johnson, Bernadette Cusack, Thomas F. Hughes, Elizabeth H. McCullough, Abdul Fauq, Peteris Romanovskis, Arno F. Spatola, Terrone L. Rosenberry

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43 Scopus citations


The acetylcholinesterase (AChE) active site consists of a narrow gorge with two separate ligand binding sites: an acylation site (or A-site) at the bottom of the gorge where substrate hydrolysis occurs and a peripheral site (or P-site) at the gorge mouth. AChE is inactivated by organophosphates as they pass through the P-site and phosphorylate the catalytic serine in the A-site. One strategy to protect against organophosphate inactivation is to design cyclic ligands that will bind specifically to the P-site and block the passage of organophosphates but not acetylcholine. To accelerate the process of identifying cyclic compounds with high affinity for the AChE P-site, we introduced a cysteine residue near the rim of the P-site by site-specific mutagenesis to generate recombinant human H287C AChE. Compounds were synthesized with a highly reactive methanethiosulfonyl substituent and linked to this cysteine through a disulfide bond. The advantages of this tethering were demonstrated with H287C AChE modified with six compounds, consisting of cationic trialkylammonium, acridinium, and tacrine ligands with tethers of varying length. Modification by ligands with short tethers had little effect on catalytic properties, but longer tethering resulted in shifts in substrate hydrolysis profiles and reduced affinity for acridinium affinity resin. Molecular modeling calculations indicated that cationic ligands with tethers of intermediate length bound to the P-site, whereas those with long tethers reached the A-site. These binding locations were confirmed experimentally by measuring competitive inhibition constants KI2 for propidium and tacrine, inhibitors specific for the P- and A-sites, respectively. Values of KI2 for propidium increased 30- to 100-fold when ligands had either intermediate or long tethers. In contrast, the value of KI2 for tacrine increased substantially only when ligands had long tethers. These relative changes in propidium and tacrine affinities thus provided a sensitive molecular ruler for assigning the binding locations of the tethered cations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38948-38955
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 3 2003


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