Protoporphyrinogen IX oxidase (PPO; EC is an essential enzyme catalyzing the last common step in the pathway leading to heme and chlorophyll biosynthesis. Great interest in PPO inhibitors arises from both its significance to agriculture and medicine. However, the discovery of PPO inhibitors with ultrahigh potency and selectivity is hampered due to lack of structural and mechanistic understanding about the substrate recognition, which remains a longstanding question central in porphyrin biology. To understand the mechanism, a novel binding model of protogen (protoporphyrinogen IX, the substrate) was developed through extensive computational simulations. Subsequently, amino acid residues that are critical for protogen binding identified by computational simulations were substituted by mutagenesis. Kinetic analyses of these mutants indicated that these residues were critical for protogen binding. In addition, the calculated free energies of protogen binding with these mutants correlated well with the experimental data, indicating the reasonability of the binding model. On the basis of this novel model, the fundamental mechanism of substrate recognition was investigated by performing potential of mean force (PMF) calculations, which provided an atomic level description of conformational changes and pathway intermediates. The free energy profile revealed a feedback inhibition mechanism of proto (protoporphyrin IX, the product), which was also in agreement with experimental evidence. The novel mechanistic insights obtained from this study present a new starting point for future rational design of more efficient PPO inhibitors based on the product-bound PPO structure.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in PLoS ONE, v. 8, no. 7, e69198.

© 2013 Hao et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


753106_1.zip (11050 kB)
Supporting documents