The carboxyl (COOH) side chain groups of amino acids, such as aspartic acid, play an important role in biochemical processes, including enzymatic proton transport. In many theoretical studies, it was found that the (bio)chemical reactivity of the carboxyl group strongly depends on the conformation of this group. Interestingly, up to now there has been no experimental investigation of the geometry and the stability of different COOH conformers under biorelevant conditions. Here, we investigate the conformational isomerism of the side chain COOH group of N-acetyl aspartic acid amide using polarization-resolved two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy. We find that the carboxyl group shows two distinct near-planar conformers (syn and anti) when dissolved in water at room temperature. Both conformers are significantly populated in aqueous solution (75 ± 10% and 25 ± 10% for syn and anti, respectively). Molecular dynamics simulations show that the anti conformer interacts more strongly with water molecules than the syn conformer, explaining why this conformer is significantly present in aqueous solution.

General Materials Science
J. Phys. Chem. Lett.
Ultrafast Spectroscopy

Sofronov, O.O, Giubertoni, G, Pérez de Alba Ortíz, A, Ensing, B, & Bakker, H.J. (2020). Peptide Side-COOH Groups Have Two Distinct Conformations under Biorelevant Conditions. J. Phys. Chem. Lett., 11, 3466–3472. doi:10.1021/acs.jpclett.0c00711