Modeling the Histidine–Phenylalanine Interaction: The NH···π Hydrogen Bond of Imidazole·Benzene

Trachsel, Maria Angela; Ottiger, Philipp; Frey, Hans-Martin; Pfaffen, Chantal; Bihlmeier, Angela; Klopper, Wim; Leutwyler, Samuel (2015). Modeling the Histidine–Phenylalanine Interaction: The NH···π Hydrogen Bond of Imidazole·Benzene. Journal of physical chemistry - B, 119(25), pp. 7778-7790. American Chemical Society 10.1021/jp512766r

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NH···π hydrogen bonds occur frequently between the amino acid side groups in proteins and peptides. Data-mining studies of protein crystals find that ~80% of the T-shaped histidine···aromatic contacts are CH···π, and only ~20% are NH···π interactions. We investigated the infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) spectra of the supersonic-jet-cooled imidazole·benzene (Im·Bz) complex as a model for the NH···π interaction between histidine and phenylalanine. Ground- and excited-state dispersion-corrected density functional calculations and correlated methods (SCS-MP2 and SCS-CC2) predict that Im·Bz has a Cs-symmetric T-shaped minimum-energy structure with an NH···π hydrogen bond to the Bz ring; the NH bond is tilted 12° away from the Bz C₆ axis. IR depletion spectra support the T-shaped geometry: The NH stretch vibrational fundamental is red shifted by −73 cm⁻¹ relative to that of bare imidazole at 3518 cm⁻¹, indicating a moderately strong NH···π interaction. While the Sₒ(A1g) → S₁(B₂u) origin of benzene at 38 086 cm⁻¹ is forbidden in the gas phase, Im·Bz exhibits a moderately intense Sₒ → S₁ origin, which appears via the D₆h → Cs symmetry lowering of Bz by its interaction with imidazole. The NH···π ground-state hydrogen bond is strong, De=22.7 kJ/mol (1899 cm⁻¹). The combination of gas-phase UV and IR spectra confirms the theoretical predictions that the optimum Im·Bz geometry is T shaped and NH···π hydrogen bonded. We find no experimental evidence for a CH···π hydrogen-bonded ground-state isomer of Im·Bz. The optimum NH···π geometry of the Im·Bz complex is very different from the majority of the histidine·aromatic contact geometries found in protein database analyses, implying that the CH···π contacts observed in these searches do not arise from favorable binding interactions but merely from protein side-chain folding and crystal-packing constraints. The UV and IR spectra of the imidazole·(benzene)₂ cluster are observed via fragmentation into the Im·Bz+ mass channel. The spectra of Im·Bz and Im·Bz₂ are cleanly separable by IR hole burning. The UV spectrum of Im·Bz₂ exhibits two 000 bands corresponding to the Sₒ → S₁ excitations of the two inequivalent benzenes, which are symmetrically shifted by −86/+88 cm⁻¹ relative to the 000 band of benzene.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Applied Physics
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences (DCBP)

UniBE Contributor:

Trachsel, Maria Angela, Ottiger, Philipp, Frey, Hans-Martin, Pfaffen, Chantal, Leutwyler, Samuel


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 540 Chemistry
600 Technology > 620 Engineering
500 Science




American Chemical Society




Beatrice Niederhauser

Date Deposited:

02 Feb 2016 15:31

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:51

Publisher DOI:





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