Occurrence and Minimization of Cysteine Racemization during Stepwise Solid-Phase Peptide Synthesis

Yongxin Han, Fernando Albericio, George Barany

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Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the peptide synthesis field, N,S-protected derivatives of cysteine can undergo substantial levels of racemization with widely-used reagents and protocols for stepwise incorporation. A systematic study of this problem has been carried out as a function of coupling conditions and β-thiol protecting groups, i.e., S-acetamidomethyl (Acm), S-triphenyl-methyl (trityl or Trt), S-2,4,6-trimethoxybenzyl (Tmob), and S-9H-xanthen-9-yl (Xan), taking advantage of a convenient and quantitative model system assay involving HPLC resolution of H-Gly-L-Cys-Phe-NH2 from H-Gly-D-Cys-Phe-NH2, For example, standard protocols for couplings mediated by phosphonium and aminium salts, e.g., (benzotriazolyloxy)tris(dimethylamino)phosphonium hexafluorophosphate (BOP), N-[(1H-benzotriazol-1-yl)(dimethylamino)methylene]-N-methylmethanaminium hexafluorophosphate N-oxide (HBTU), N-[[(dimethylamino)-1H-1,2,3-triazolo[4,5-b]-pyridin-1-yl]methylene]-N- methylmethanaminium hexafluorophosphate N-oxide (HATU), and (7-azabenzotriazol-1-yloxy)tris(pyrrolidino)phosphonium hexafluorophosphate (PyAOP), typically involve 5-min preactivation times and are conducted in the presence of suitable additives such as 1-hydroxybenzotriazole (HOBt) or 7-aza-1-hydroxybenzotriazole (HOAt) plus a tertiary amine base such as N,N-diisopropylethylamine (DIEA) or N-methylmorpholine (NMM). Under such conditions, the levels of racemization in the model peptide, expressed as the ratio of D:L peptide formed, were in the entirely unacceptable range of 5-33%. However, these levels were in general reduced by a factor of 6- or 7-fold by avoiding the preactivation step. Additional strategies to reduce racemization involved change to a weaker base, with 2,4,6-trimethylpyridine (TMP, collidine) being substantially better than DIEA or NMM; 2-fold reduction in the amount of base; and change in solvent from neat N,N-dimethylformamide (DMF) to the less polar CH2Cl2-DMF (1:1). Coupling methods for the safe incorporation of cysteine with minimal racemization (<1% per step) in 9-fluorenylmethyl-oxycarbonyl (Fmoc) solid-phase peptide synthesis include BOP (or HBTU or HATU)/HOBt (or HOAt)/ TMP (4:4:4) without preactivation in CH2Cl2-DMF (1:1), DIPCDI/HOBt (or HOAt) (4:4) with 5-min preactivation, and preformed pentafluorophenyl (Pfp) esters in CH2Cl2-DMF (1:1).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4307-4312
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Organic Chemistry
Issue number13
StatePublished - Dec 1 1997


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