Counterion controlled photoisomerization of retinal chromophore models: A computational investigation

Alessandro Cembran, Fernando Bernardi, Massimo Olivucci, Marco Garavelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


CASPT2//CASSCF photoisomerization path computations have been used to unveil the effects of an acetate counterion on the photochemistry of two retinal protonated Schiff base (PSB) models: the 2-cis-penta-2,4-dieniminium and the all-trans-epta-2,4,6-trieniminium cations. Different positions/orientations of the counterion have been investigated and related to (i) the spectral tuning and relative stability of the S0, S1, and S2 singlet states; (ii) the selection of the photochemically relevant excited state; (iii) the control of the radiationless decay and photoisomerization rates; and, finally, (iv) the control of the photoisomerization stereospecificity. A rationale for the results is given on the basis of a simple (electrostatic) qualitative model. We show that the model readily explains the computational results providing a qualitative explanation for different aspects of the experimentally observed "environment" dependent PSB photochemistry. Electrostatic effects likely involved in controlling retinal photoisomerization stereoselectivity in the protein are also discussed under the light of these results, and clues for a stereocontrolled electrostatically driven photochemical process are presented. These computations provide a rational basis for the formulation of a mechanistic model for photoisomerization electrostatic catalysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16018-16037
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 15 2004


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