Gas phase protonated nicotine is a mixture of pyridine- and pyrrolidine-protonated conformers: implications for its native structure in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor†
The infrared (IR) spectra of gas phase protonated nicotine has been measured in the never-before probed N–H “fingerprint region” (3200–3500 cm−1). The protonated molecules generated by an electrospray source are thermalized in the first ion trap with water vapor and He gas at a pre-determined temperature prior to being probed by IR spectroscopy in the second ion trap at 4 K. The IR spectra exhibit two N–H stretching bands which are assigned to the pyridine and pyrrolidine protomers with the aid of high-level electronic structure calculations. This finding is in sharp contrast to previous spectroscopic studies that suggested a single population of the pyridine protomer. The relative populations of the two protomers vary by changing the temperature of the thermalizing trap from 180−300 K. The relative conformer populations at 240 K and 300 K are well reproduced by the theoretical calculations, unequivocally determining that gas phase nicotine is a 3 : 2 mixture of both pyridine and pyrrolidine protomers at room temperature. The thermalizing anhydrous vapor does not result in any population change. It rather demonstrates the catalytic role of water in achieving equilibrium between the two protomers. The combination of IR spectroscopy and electronic structure calculations establish the small energy difference between the pyridine and pyrrolidine protomers in nicotine. One of the gas phase nicotine pyrrolidine protomers has the closest conformational resemblance among all low-lying energy isomers with the X-ray structure of nicotine in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR).