Multi-heme proteins have attracted much attention recently due to their prominent role in mediating extracellular electron transport (ET), but one of their key fundamental properties, the rate constants for ET between the constituent heme groups, have so far evaded experimental determination. Here we report the set of heme–heme theoretical ET rate constants that define electron flow in the tetra-heme protein STC by combining a novel projector-operator diabatization approach for electronic coupling calculation with molecular dynamics simulation of ET free energies. On the basis of our calculations, we find that the protein limited electron flux through STC in the thermodynamic downhill direction (heme 1→4) is ∼3 × 106 s–1. We find that cysteine linkages inserting in the space between the two terminal heme pairs 1-2 and 3-4 significantly enhance the overall electron flow, by a factor of about 37, due to weak mixing of the sulfur 3p orbital with the Fe-heme d orbitals. While the packing density model, and to a higher degree, the pathway model of biological ET partly capture the predicted rate enhancements, our study highlights the importance of the atomistic and chemical nature of the tunneling medium at short biological tunneling distances. Cysteine linkages are likely to enhance electron flow also in the larger deca-heme proteins MtrC and MtrF, where heme–heme motifs with sub-optimal edge-to-edge distances are used to shuttle electrons in multiple directions.

We are working at the Institute of Nano Science and Technology Mohali, one of the leading research institutes in India in the field of Nano Science. INST is located in Chandigarh, one of the major cities of India.

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