Biological water oxidation

Nicholas Cox*, Dimitrios A. Pantazis, Frank Neese, Wolfgang Lubitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

422 Citations (Scopus)


Photosystem II (PSII), a multisubunit pigment-protein supercomplex found in cyanobacteria, algae, and plants, catalyzes a unique reaction in nature: the light-driven oxidation of water. Remarkable recent advances in the structural analysis of PSII now give a detailed picture of the static supercomplex on the molecular level. These data provide a solid foundation for future functional studies, in particular the mechanism of water oxidation and oxygen release.The catalytic core of the PSII is a tetramanganese-calcium cluster (Mn 4O5Ca), commonly referred to as the oxygen-evolving complex (OEC). The function of the OEC rests on its ability to cycle through five metastable states (Si, i = 0-4), transiently storing four oxidizing equivalents, and in so doing, facilitates the four electron water splitting reaction. While the latest crystallographic model of PSII gives an atomic picture of the OEC, the exact connectivity within the inorganic core and the S-state(s) that the X-ray model represents remain uncertain.In this Account, we describe our joint experimental and theoretical efforts to eliminate these ambiguities by combining the X-ray data with spectroscopic constraints and introducing computational modeling. We are developing quantum chemical methods to predict electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) parameters for transition metal clusters, especially focusing on spin-projection approaches combined with density functional theory (DFT) calculations. We aim to resolve the geometric and electronic structures of all S-states, correlating their structural features with spectroscopic observations to elucidate reactivity. The sequence of manganese oxidations and concomitant charge compensation events via proton transfer allow us to rationalize the multielectron S-state cycle. EPR spectroscopy combined with theoretical calculations provides a unique window into the tetramangenese complex, in particular its protonation states and metal ligand sphere evolution, far beyond the scope of static techniques such as X-ray crystallography. This approach has led, for example, to a detailed understanding of the EPR signals in the S2-state of the OEC in terms of two interconvertible, isoenergetic structures. These two structures differ in their valence distribution and spin multiplicity, which has important consequences for substrate binding and may explain its low barrier exchange with solvent water.New experimental techniques and innovative sample preparations are beginning to unravel the complex sequence of substrate uptake/inclusion, which is coupled to proton release. The introduction of specific site perturbations, such as replacing Ca2+ with Sr2+, provides discrete information about the ligand environment of the individual Mn ions. In this way, we have identified a potential open coordination site for one Mn center, which may serve as a substrate binding site in the higher S-states, such as S3 and S4. In addition, we can now monitor the binding of the substrate water in the lower S-states (S1 and S2) using new EPR-detected NMR spectroscopies. These studies provided the first evidence that one of the substrates is subsumed into the complex itself and forms an oxo-bridge between two Mn ions. This result places important new restrictions on the mechanism of O-O bond formation. These new insights from nature's water splitting catalyst provide important criteria for the rational design of bioinspired synthetic catalysts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1588-1596
Number of pages9
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


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