Computational studies of modified [Fe3S4] clusters: Why iron is optimal

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This work reports density functional computations of metal-substituted models of biological [Fe3S4] clusters in oxidation states [MFe2S4]+/0/−1 (M = Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, and Mo). Geometry optimization with a dielectric screening model is shown to provide a substantial improvement in structure, compared to earlier used standard procedures. The error for average Fe–S bonds decreased from 0.038 Å to 0.016 Å with this procedure. Four density functionals were compared, B3LYP, BP86, TPSS, and TPSSh. B3LYP and to a lesser extent TPSSh energies were inconsistent with experiment for the oxidized [Fe3S4]+ cluster. BP86 (and to a slightly lesser extent TPSS) was within expected theoretical and experimental uncertainties for all oxidation states, the only qualitative error being 5 kJ/mol in favor of the MS = 3/2 configuration for the [Fe3S4]+ cluster, so BP86 was used for quantitative results. Computed reorganization energies and reduction potentials point directly towards the [Fe3S4] cluster as the superior choice of electron carrier, with the [ZnFe2S4] cluster a close second. In addition, partially and fully Mo-substituted clusters were investigated and found to have very low reorganization energies but too negative reduction potentials. The results provide a direct rationale why any substitution weakens the cluster as an electron carrier, and thus why the [Fe3S4] composition is optimal in the biological clusters.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Inorganic Biochemistry
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)87-100
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Density functional theory
  • Reorganization energy
  • Electron transfer
  • Iron–sulfur proteins
  • Reduction potential


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