Metal ion and nucleobase catalysis are important for ribozyme mechanism, but the extent to which they cooperate is unclear. A crystal structure of the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) ribozyme suggested that the pro-RP oxygen at the scissile phosphate directly coordinates a catalytic Mg2+ ion and is within hydrogen bonding distance of the amine of the general acid C75. Prior studies of the genomic HDV ribozyme, however, showed neither a thio effect nor metal ion rescue using Mn2+. Here, we combine experiment and theory to explore phosphorothioate substitutions at the scissile phosphate. We report significant thio effects at the scissile phosphate and metal ion rescue with Cd2+. Reaction profiles with an SP-phosphorothioate substitution are indistinguishable from those of the unmodified substrate in the presence of Mg2+ or Cd2+, supporting the idea that the pro-SP oxygen does not coordinate metal ions. The R P-phosphorothioate substitution, however, exhibits biphasic kinetics, with the fast-reacting phase displaying a thio effect of up to 5-fold and the slow-reacting phase displaying a thio effect of ∼1000-fold. Moreover, the fast- and slow-reacting phases give metal ion rescues in Cd2+ of up to 10- and 330-fold, respectively. The metal ion rescues are unconventional in that they arise from Cd2+ inhibiting the oxo substrate but not the RP substrate. This metal ion rescue suggests a direct interaction of the catalytic metal ion with the pro-RP oxygen, in line with experiments with the antigenomic HDV ribozyme. Experiments without divalent ions, with a double mutant that interferes with Mg2+ binding, or with C75 deleted suggest that the pro-RP oxygen plays at most a redundant role in positioning C75. Quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) studies indicate that the metal ion contributes to catalysis by interacting with both the pro-RP oxygen and the nucleophilic 2′-hydroxyl, supporting the experimental findings.
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