Vicinal disulfide rings (VDRs) occur when a disulfide bond forms between adjacent cysteine residues in a protein and results in a rare eight-membered ring structure. This eight-membered ring has been found to exist in four major conformations in solution, divided between cis and trans conformers. Some selenoenzymes use a special type of VDR in which selenium replaces sulfur, generating a vicinal selenosulfide ring (VSeSR). Here, we provide evidence that this substitution reduces ring strain, resulting in a strong preference for the trans conformation relative to cis in a VSeSR (cis:trans – 9:91). This was determined by using the ‘γ-gauche effect’, which makes use of both 1H-NMR and two-dimensional (2D) NMR techniques for determining the amide bond conformeric ratio. The presence of selenium in a VSeSR also lowers the dihedral strain energy (DSE) of the selenosulfide bond relative to the disulfide bond of VDRs. While cis amide geometry decreases strain on the amide bond, it increases strain on the scissile disulfide bond of the VDR found in thioredoxin reductase from Drosophila melanogaster (DmTR). We hypothesize that the cis conformation of the VDR is the catalytically competent conformer for thiol/disulfide exchange. This hypothesis was investigated by computing the DSE of VDR and VSeSR conformers, the structure of which was determined by 2D NMR spectroscopy and energy minimization. The computed values of the VDR from DmTR are 16.5 kJ/mol DSE and 14.3 kJ/mol for the C+ and T− conformers, respectively, supporting the hypothesis that the enzyme uses the C+ conformer for thiol/disulfide exchange. Copyright © 2014 European Peptide Society and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Some enzymes use a rare vicinal disulfide ring for catalysis. These disulfide rings are strained and may fluctuate in the enzyme between cis and trans amide conformations. We show that the cis conformer may be important for thiol/disulfide exchange. Mammalian thioredoxin reductase uses such a motif, except that one sulfur atom of the ring is replaced with selenium. The consequence of this substitution is that the trans form of the ring is stabilized and is the predominant conformer in solution.