Effect of Intermolecular Orientation upon Proton Transfer within a Polarizable Medium

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Ab initio calculations are used to investigate the proton transfer process in bacteriorhodopsin. HN = CH2 serves as a small prototype of the Schiff base while HCOO- models its carboxylate-containing counterion and HO- the hydroxyl group of water of tyrosine, leading to the HCOO-.H+.NHCH2 and HO-.H+.NHCH2 complexes. In isolation, both complexes prefer a neutral pair configuration wherein the central proton is associated with the anion. However, the Schiff base may be protonated in the former complex, producing the HCOO-.+HNHCH2 ion pair, when there is a high degree of dielectric coupling with an external polarizable medium. Within a range of intermediate level coupling, the equilibrium position of the proton (on either the carboxylate or Schiff base) can be switched by suitable changes in the intermolecular angle. pK shift resulting from a 60 degrees reorientation are calculated to be some 5–12 pK U within the coupling range where proton transfers are possible. The energy barrier to proton transfer reinforces the ability of changes in angle and dielectric coupling to induce a proton transfer.

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