Enzymatic Nitrogen Insertion into Unactivated C–H Bonds

13 September 2022, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Selective functionalization of aliphatic C–H bonds, ubiquitous in molecular structures, could allow ready access to diverse chemical products. While enzymatic oxygenation of C–H bonds is well established, the analogous enzymatic nitrogen functionalization is still unknown; nature is reliant on pre-oxidized compounds for nitrogen incorporation. Likewise, synthetic methods for selective nitrogen derivatization of unbiased C–H bonds remain elusive. In this work, new-to-nature heme-containing nitrene transferases were used as starting points for the directed evolution of enzymes to selectively aminate and amidate unactivated C(sp3)–H sites. The desymmetrization of methyl- and ethylcyclohexane with divergent site selectivity is offered as demonstration. The evolved enzymes in these lineages are highly promiscuous and show activity towards a wide array of substrates, providing a foundation for further evolution of nitrene transferase function. Computational studies and kinetic isotope effects (KIEs) are consistent with a stepwise radical pathway involving an irreversible, enantiodetermining hydrogen atom transfer (HAT), followed by a lower-barrier diastereoselectivity determining radical rebound step. In-enzyme molecular dynamics (MD) simulations reveal a predominantly hydrophobic pocket with favorable dispersion interactions with the substrate. By offering a direct path from saturated precursors, these enzymes present a new biochemical logic for accessing nitrogen-containing compounds.


C–H activation

Supplementary materials

SI_Enzymatic Nitrogen Insertion into Unactivated C–H Bonds
Supplementary Information Document


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