From Ground-State to Excited-State Activation Modes: Flavin-Dependent “Ene”-Reductases Catalyzed Non-natural Radical Reactions

Haigen Fu, Todd K. Hyster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conspectus Enzymes are desired catalysts for chemical synthesis, because they can be engineered to provide unparalleled levels of efficiency and selectivity. Yet, despite the astonishing array of reactions catalyzed by natural enzymes, many reactivity patterns found in small molecule catalysts have no counterpart in the living world. With a detailed understanding of the mechanisms utilized by small molecule catalysts, we can identify existing enzymes with the potential to catalyze reactions that are currently unknown in nature. Over the past eight years, our group has demonstrated that flavin-dependent “ene”-reductases (EREDs) can catalyze various radical-mediated reactions with unparalleled levels of selectivity, solving long-standing challenges in asymmetric synthesis. This Account presents our development of EREDs as general catalysts for asymmetric radical reactions. While we have developed multiple mechanisms for generating radicals within protein active sites, this account will focus on examples where flavin mononucleotide hydroquinone (FMNhq) serves as an electron transfer radical initiator. While our initial mechanistic hypotheses were rooted in electron-transfer-based radical initiation mechanisms commonly used by synthetic organic chemists, we ultimately uncovered emergent mechanisms of radical initiation that are unique to the protein active site. We will begin by covering intramolecular reactions and discussing how the protein activates the substrate for reduction by altering the redox-potential of alkyl halides and templating the charge transfer complex between the substrate and flavin-cofactor. Protein engineering has been used to modify the fundamental photophysics of these reactions, highlighting the opportunity to tune these systems further by using directed evolution. This section highlights the range of coupling partners and radical termination mechanisms available to intramolecular reactions. The next section will focus on intermolecular reactions and the role of enzyme-templated ternary charge transfer complexes among the cofactor, alkyl halide, and coupling partner in gating electron transfer to ensure that it only occurs when both substrates are bound within the protein active site. We will highlight the synthetic applications available to this activation mode, including olefin hydroalkylation, carbohydroxylation, arene functionalization, and nitronate alkylation. This section also discusses how the protein can favor mechanistic steps that are elusive in solution for the asymmetric reductive coupling of alkyl halides and nitroalkanes. We are aware of several recent EREDs-catalyzed photoenzymatic transformations from other groups. We will discuss results from these papers in the context of understanding the nuances of radical initiation with various substrates. These biocatalytic asymmetric radical reactions often complement the state-of-the-art small-molecule-catalyzed reactions, making EREDs a valuable addition to a chemist’s synthetic toolbox. Moreover, the underlying principles studied with these systems are potentially operative with other cofactor-dependent proteins, opening the door to different types of enzyme-catalyzed radical reactions. We anticipate that this Account will serve as a guide and inspire broad interest in repurposing existing enzymes to access new transformations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1446-1457
Number of pages12
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 7 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry


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