Ab initio and density functional calculations have been performed to gain a better understanding of the epoxide ring-opening reaction catalyzed by epoxide hydrolase. The SN2 reaction of acetate with 1S,2S-trans-2-methylstyrene oxide to provide the corresponding diol acetate ester was studied with and without general-acid catalysis. MP2 and DFT (B3LYP) calculations predict, for the noncatalyzed reaction, a central barrier of approximately 20-21 kcal/mol separating the reactants from products depending on which carbon center in the epoxide is undergoing attack. From these gas-phase reactions the immediate alkoxide products are not energetically far below their associated transition states such that the reaction is predicted to be endothermic. Inclusion of aqueous solvation effects via a polarizable continuum model predicts the activation barrier to increase by almost 10 kcal/mol due to the solvation of the acetate ion nucleophile. The activation barrier for the epoxide ring-opening reaction is reduced to ∼ 10 kcal/mol when phenol, as the general-acid catalyst, is included in the gas-phase calculations. This is due to the immediate product being the neutral ester rather than the corresponding alkoxide. The transition state in the general-acid-catalyzed reaction is earlier than that for the noncatalyzed reaction and the reaction is highly exothermic. Molecular mechanics calculations of 1S,2S-trans-2-methylstyrene oxide in the active site of murine epoxide hydrolase show two possible binding conformations. Both conformers have the epoxide oxygen forming hydrogen bonds with the acidic hydrogens of the catalytic tyrosines (Tyr381 and Tyr465). These two conformations likely lead to different products since the nucleophile (Asp333-CO2 -) is positioned to react with either carbon center in the epoxide.
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