Enzymatic neutralization of the chemical warfare agent VX: evolution of phosphotriesterase for phosphorothiolate hydrolysis. Academic Article uri icon


  • The V-type nerve agents (VX and VR) are among the most toxic substances known. The high toxicity and environmental persistence of VX make the development of novel decontamination methods particularly important. The enzyme phosphotriesterase (PTE) is capable of hydrolyzing VX but with an enzymatic efficiency more than 5 orders of magnitude lower than with its best substrate, paraoxon. PTE has previously proven amenable to directed evolution for the improvement of catalytic activity against selected compounds through the manipulation of active-site residues. Here, a series of sequential two-site mutational libraries encompassing 12 active-site residues of PTE was created. The libraries were screened for catalytic activity against a new VX analogue, DEVX, which contains the same thiolate leaving group of VX coupled to a diethoxyphosphate core rather than the ethoxymethylphosphonate core of VX. The evolved catalytic activity with DEVX was enhanced 26-fold relative to wild-type PTE. Further improvements were facilitated by targeted error-prone PCR mutagenesis of loop-7, and additional PTE variants were identified with up to a 78-fold increase in the rate of DEVX hydrolysis. The best mutant hydrolyzed the racemic nerve agent VX with a value of kcat/Km = 7 10(4) M(-1) s(-1), a 230-fold improvement relative to wild-type PTE. The highest turnover number achieved by the mutants created for this investigation was 137 s(-1), an enhancement of 152-fold relative to wild-type PTE. The stereoselectivity for the hydrolysis of the two enantiomers of VX was relatively low. These engineered mutants of PTE are the best catalysts ever reported for the hydrolysis of nerve agent VX.

published proceedings

  • J Am Chem Soc

altmetric score

  • 6

author list (cited authors)

  • Bigley, A. N., Xu, C., Henderson, T. J., Harvey, S. P., & Raushel, F. M.

citation count

  • 92

complete list of authors

  • Bigley, Andrew N||Xu, Chengfu||Henderson, Terry J||Harvey, Steven P||Raushel, Frank M

publication date

  • July 2013