Reaction pathways and free energy profiles for cholinesterase-catalyzed hydrolysis of 6-monoacetylmorphine

Yan Qiao, Keli Han, Chang Guo Zhan

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27 Scopus citations


As the most active metabolite of heroin, 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) can penetrate into the brain for the rapid onset of heroin effects. The primary enzymes responsible for the metabolism of 6-MAM to the less potent morphine in humans are acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BChE). The detailed reaction pathways for AChE- and BChE-catalyzed hydrolysis of 6-MAM to morphine have been explored, for the first time, in the present study by performing first-principles quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical free energy calculations. It has been demonstrated that the two enzymatic reaction processes follow similar catalytic reaction mechanisms, and the whole catalytic reaction pathway for each enzyme consists of four reaction steps. According to the calculated results, the second reaction step associated with the transition state TS2a/TS2b should be rate-determining for the AChE/BChE-catalyzed hydrolysis, and the free energy barrier calculated for the AChE-catalyzed hydrolysis (18.3 kcal mol-1) is 2.5 kcal mol -1 lower than that for the BChE-catalyzed hydrolysis (20.8 kcal mol-1). The free energy barriers calculated for the AChE- and BChE-catalyzed reactions are in good agreement with the experimentally derived activation free energies (17.5 and 20.7 kcal mol-1 for the AChE- and BChE-catalyzed reactions, respectively). Further structural analysis reveals that the aromatic residues Phe295 and Phe297 in the acyl pocket of AChE (corresponding to Leu286 and Val288 in BChE) contribute to the lower energy of TS2a relative to TS2b. The obtained structural and mechanistic insights could be valuable for use in future rational design of a novel therapeutic treatment of heroin abuse. This journal is

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2214-2227
Number of pages14
JournalOrganic and Biomolecular Chemistry
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 14 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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