Cation-π Interactions in Chemistry and Biology: A New View of Benzene, Phe, Tyr, and Trp

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Science  12 Jan 1996:
Vol. 271, Issue 5246, pp. 163-168
DOI: 10.1126/science.271.5246.163


Cations bind to the π face of an aromatic structure through a surprisingly strong, noncovalent force termed the cation-π interaction. The magnitude and generality of the effect have been established by gas-phase measurements and by studies of model receptors in aqueous media. To first order, the interaction can be considered an electrostatic attraction between a positive charge and the quadrupole moment of the aromatic. A great deal of direct and circumstantial evidence indicates that cation-π interactions are important in a variety of proteins that bind cationic ligands or substrates. In this context, the amino acids phenylalanine (Phe), tyrosine (Tyr), and tryptophan (Trp) can be viewed as polar, yet hydrophobic, residues.