Chitinases are glycosidases responsible for cleaving the glycosidic bond of chitin, one of the most abundant carbohydrates in nature. These enzymes have gained interest because of their medical and industrial applications. Family GH18 chitinases, unlike most retaining glycosidases, follow a substrate-assisted mechanism in which the 2-acetamido group of the N-acetylglucosamine located at the -1 subsite reacts with the sugar anomeric carbon, forming an intermediate which is commonly described as an oxazolinium ion.[3,4] By means of QM/MM metadynamics simulations on chitinase B from Serratia marcescens, we analyzed the entire reaction mechanism, showing that the reaction intermediate features a neutral oxazoline, with an oxazolinium ion being formed only on the pathway toward the reaction products. The role of a well-defined hydrogen bond network that orchestrates catalysis by protonation events, is discussed.
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