Electric fields imbue enzyme reactivity by aligning active site fragment orbitals

17 June 2024, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


It is broadly recognized that intramolecular electric fields, produced by the protein scaffold and acting on the active site, facilitate enzymatic catalysis. This field effect can be described by several theoretical models, each of which is intuitive to varying degrees. In this contribution, we show that a fundamental effect of electric fields is to generate electrostatic potentials that facilitate the energetic alignment of reactant frontier orbitals. We apply this model to demystify the impact of electric fields on high-valent iron-oxo heme proteins: catalases, peroxidases, and peroxygenases/monooxygenases. Specifically, we show that this model easily accounts for the observed field-induced changes to the spin distribution within peroxidase active sites and explains the transition between epoxidation and hydroxylation pathways seen in Cytochrome P450 active site models. Thus, for the intuitive interpretation of the chemical effect of the field, the strategy involves analyzing the response of the orbitals of active site fragments, and their energetic alignment. We note that the energy difference between fragment orbitals involved in charge redistribution acts as a measure for the chemical hardness/softness of the reactive complex. This measure, and its sensitivity to electric fields, offers a single parameter model from which to quantitatively assess the effects of electric fields on reactivity and selectivity. Thus, the model provides an additional perspective to describe electrostatic preorganization and offer ways for its manipulation.


Electric fields
Enzyme reactivity
Frontier orbitals
Quantum mechanics
Heme proteins

Supplementary materials

Supplementary information
SI contains atomic coordinates for all calculations and more detailed MO diagrams than those in the text.


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