Structural approach to the aging of phosphylated cholinesterases

Patrick Masson, Florian Nachon, Oksana Lockridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Phosphylated cholinesterases (ChE) can undergo a side reaction that progressively decreases their reactivatability. This process, termed " aging" , results from dealkylation of the adduct and depends on the structure of the organophosphyl moiety. Aged ChEs are resistant to reactivation by oximes.Owing to the toxicological importance of OPs, the molecular mechanism of aging has been the subject of research for decades. It was not clear whether aging involves the same bond breakage regardless the type of OP or is a scission of P-O-C bonds (P-O or O-C) in phosphates/phosphonates, P-N-C bonds in phosphoramidates, and P-S-C bonds in phosphonothionates. It was assumed that the resulting negatively charged atom on phosphorus of the aged adduct prevented nucleophilic attack by oximates, but studies on negatively charged model molecules do not support this hypothesis. Decrease in conformational flexibility of aged enzymes may contribute to their non-reactivatability by preventing proper adjustment of reactivators in the active site gorge.MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry of phosphylated human butyrylcholinesterase (hBChE) in water and in 18O-water provided evidence that aging results from O-C breakage, i.e. O-dealkylation. In contrast, the isomalathion-BChE conjugate ages mostly through P-S bond cleavage, but a minor product results from O-C and/or S-C breakage. The crystal structures of hBChE and hAChE inhibited by tabun showed that aging of tabun-ChE conjugates results from O-dealkylation. However, depending on the nature of O-alkyl and N-alkyl chains, aging of BChE inhibited by other phosphoramidates results either from O-C breakage or deamination, i.e. P-N breakage. It was found that dealkylation of branched alkoxy involves a transient carbocation. Dealkylation of OP-ChE conjugates is accompanied by enzyme conformational changes. Urea, organic solvent, heat and pressure denaturation of human BChE showed that the conformational stability of aged OP-BChE conjugates is dramatically increased compared to native enzyme. Determination of the three-dimensional structure of BChE and AChE conjugated to different OPs showed that aged adducts form a salt bridge with the protonated catalytic histidine. Structure alteration of aged enzymes is accompanied by exit of water molecules from the enzyme's active site gorge. In addition, neutron scattering studies provided evidence that the structural dynamics of aged BChE is dramatically altered compared to native enzyme. Knowledge of the molecular basis of aging will help to design reactivators of aged ChEs, molecules capable of slowing the aging process, and pseudocatalytic ChE-based bioscavengers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-162
Number of pages6
JournalChemico-Biological Interactions
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Aging
  • Cholinesterase
  • Organophosphorus compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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