Beyond ferryl-mediated hydroxylation: 40 years of the rebound mechanism and C–H activation

Xiongyi Huang, John Taylor Groves

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

237 Scopus citations


Since our initial report in 1976, the oxygen rebound mechanism has become the consensus mechanistic feature for an expanding variety of enzymatic C–H functionalization reactions and small molecule biomimetic catalysts. For both the biotransformations and models, an initial hydrogen atom abstraction from the substrate (R–H) by high-valent iron-oxo species (Fen=O) generates a substrate radical and a reduced iron hydroxide, [Fen−1–OH ·R]. This caged radical pair then evolves on a complicated energy landscape through a number of reaction pathways, such as oxygen rebound to form R–OH, rebound to a non-oxygen atom affording R–X, electron transfer of the incipient radical to yield a carbocation, R+, desaturation to form olefins, and radical cage escape. These various flavors of the rebound process, often in competition with each other, give rise to the wide range of C–H functionalization reactions performed by iron-containing oxygenases. In this review, we first recount the history of radical rebound mechanisms, their general features, and key intermediates involved. We will discuss in detail the factors that affect the behavior of the initial caged radical pair and the lifetimes of the incipient substrate radicals. Several representative examples of enzymatic C–H transformations are selected to illustrate how the behaviors of the radical pair [Fen−1–OH ·R] determine the eventual reaction outcome. Finally, we discuss the powerful potential of “radical rebound” processes as a general paradigm for developing novel C–H functionalization reactions with synthetic, biomimetic catalysts. We envision that new chemistry will continue to arise by bridging enzymatic “radical rebound” with synthetic organic chemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-207
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


  • C–H activation
  • Iron
  • Metal oxo
  • Oxygenase
  • Radical
  • Rebound


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