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    Isocyanates with the -N═C═O functional group are highly reactive compounds. They are used in various industrial applications and have been found as possible metabolites of hydroxamic acids. Isocyanates interact with biopolymers and are notorious mutagens. Mutagenic effects of isocyanates are caused by the formation of covalent adducts with nucleobases of DNA, primarily cytosines, through carbamoylation of NH2 groups to give the corresponding urea. The mechanism of carbamoylation of nucleobases by aryl isocyanates is studied by high-level density functional theory calculations. Three possible pathways are analyzed. It is demonstrated that the reaction follows the stepwise pathway, which starts with the formation of a π-complex followed by a rate-determining C-N covalent bond formation via the reactive tautomeric imine forms of the nucleobases. The reaction proceeds further through two consecutive proton transfers mediated by water molecules to give the final adduct. The predicted activation free energies of the rate-determining step in water agree with experimental data. In line with experiments, the reactivity of isocyanates toward nucleobases decreases in the order cytosine > adenine > guanine, and we rationalize this order of reactivity by the fall of their basicity and destabilization of the imine forms. Activation barriers of the alternative concerted pathways are higher than that of the preferred stepwise mechanism, and the match to experiment is poor. The kinetic effect of adding electron-withdrawing or electron-donating groups to the aryl group of aryl isocyanate is minute, which suggests that mutagenicity of isocyanates is determined exclusively by the reactivity of the -N═C═O group and as such cannot be removed by structural alterations of the adjacent aryl.


    Magnus Liljenberg, Lena Ripa, Igor Shamovsky. Theoretical Studies of the Mechanism of Carbamoylation of Nucleobases by Isocyanates. Chemical research in toxicology. 2020 Nov 16;33(11):2845-2853

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    PMID: 33076655

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