Multipodal coordination and mobility of molecular cations inside the macrocycle valinomycin
The macrocycle valinomycin displays an outstanding ability in cation binding and carriage across hydrophobic environments (e.g., cell membranes) and constitutes a central landmark for the design of novel ionophores for the regulation of biochemical processes. Most previous investigations have focused on the capture of metal cations (primarily K+). Here, we address the versatility of valinomycin in the encapsulation of molecular ions of small and moderate size, with NH4+ and H4PO4+ as case studies. A combination of infrared action vibrational spectroscopy and quantum chemical computations of molecular structure and dynamics is employed with the two-fold aim of assessing the dominant H-bonding coordination networks in the complexes and of characterizing the positional and rotational freedom of the guest cations inside the cavity of the macrocycle. Valinomycin binds NH4+ with only moderate distortion of the C3 configuration adopted in the complexes with the metal cations. The ammonium cation occupies the center of the cavity and displays two low-energy coordination arrangements that are dynamically connected through a facile rotation of the cation. The inclusion of the bulkier phosphoric acid cation demands significant stretching of the valinomycin backbone. Interestingly, the H4PO4+ cation achieves ample positional and rotational mobility inside valinomycin. The valinomycin backbone is capable of adopting barrel-like configurations when the cation occupies a region close to the center of the cavity, and funnel-like configurations when it diffuses to positions close to the exit face. This can accommodate the cation in varying coordination arrangements, characterized by different H-bonding between the four POH arms and the ester carbonyl groups of the macrocycle.