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Insight into the Substitution Mechanism of Antitumor Au(I) N‑Heterocyclic Carbene Complexes by Cysteine and Selenocysteine

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journal contribution
posted on 12.02.2020, 18:03 by Iogann Tolbatov, Cecilia Coletti, Alessandro Marrone, Nazzareno Re
We carried out a detailed theoretical study on the mechanism of the carbene ligand substitution by cysteine and selenocysteine residues in an Au­(I) bis-N-heterocyclic carbene complex in order to model the initial stages of the mechanism of action of this promising class of antitumor metallodrug. Both neutral and deprotonated capped Cys and Sec species were considered as possible nucleophiles in the ligand exchange reaction on the metal center to model the corresponding protein side chains. Energies and geometric structures of the possible transition states and reactant– and product–adducts involved in the substitution process have been calculated using density functional theory and local MP2. Reaction and activation enthalpies and free energies have been evaluated and indicate a slightly exothermic and exergonic process with reasonably low barriers, 21.3 and 19.6 kcal mol–1, respectively, for capped Cys and Sec, in good agreement with the experimental data available for the reaction with free amino acids. The results suggest a mechanism for the ligand exchange reaction involving an anionic thiolate or selenothiolate species coupled to an explicit proton transfer to the leaving carbene from the acidic component of the buffer. The presence of a buffer is necessary both in in vitro experiments and under physiological conditions, and its proton reservoir behavior reveals the importance of the environmental effects in carbene substitution by biological nucleophiles.