Plasmodium falciparum parasites are purine auxotrophs that rely exclusively on the salvage of preformed purines from their human hosts to supply the requirement for purine nucleotides. Hypoxanthine-guanine-xanthine phosphoribosyltransferase (HGXPRT) catalyzes the freely reversible Mg2+-dependent conversion of 6-oxopurine bases to their respective nucleotides and inorganic pyrophosphate. The phosphoribosyl group is derived from 5-phospho-α-d-ribosyl 1-pyrophosphate (PRPP). The enzyme from malaria parasites (PfHGXPRT) is essential as hypoxanthine is the major precursor in purine metabolism. We used specific heavy atom labels in PRPP and hypoxanthine to measure primary (1-14C and 9-15N) and secondary (1-3H and 7-15N) intrinsic kinetic isotope effect (KIE) values for PfHGXPRT. Intrinsic isotope effects contain information for understanding enzymatic transition state properties. The transition state of PfHGXPRT was explored by matching KIE values predicted from quantum mechanical calculations to the intrinsic values determined experimentally. This approach provides information about PfHGXPRT transition state bond lengths, geometry, and atomic charge distribution. The transition state structure of PfHGXPRT was determined in the physiological direction of addition of ribose 5-phosphate to hypoxanthine by overcoming the chemical instability of PRPP. The transition state for PfHGXPRT forms nucleotides through a well-developed and near-symmetrical DNAN, SN1-like transition state.
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