Terpene synthases comprise a family of enzymes that convert acyclic oligo-isoprenyl diphosphates to terpene natural products with complex, polycyclic carbon backbones via the generation and protection of carbocation intermediates. To accommodate this chemistry, terpene synthase active sites generally are lined with alkyl and aromatic, i.e., nonpolar, side chains. Predicting the correct, mechanistically relevant binding modes for entire terpene synthase reaction pathways remains an unsolved challenge. Here, we describe a method for identifying such modes: TerDockin, a series of protocols to predict the orientation of carbon skeletons of substrates and derived carbocations relative to the bound diphosphate group in terpene synthase active sites. Using this recipe for bornyl diphosphate synthase, we have predicted binding modes that are consistent with all current experimental observations, including the results of isotope labeling experiments and known stereoselectivity. In addition, the predicted binding modes recapitulate key findings of a seminal study involving more computationally demanding QM/MM molecular dynamics methods on part of this pathway. This work illustrates the value of the TerDockin approach as a starting point for more involved calculations and sets the stage for the rational engineering of this family of enzymes.
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