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Recognition of metal cations by biological systems



Recognition of metal cations by biological systems



Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B Biological Sciences 272(915): 29-41



Recognition of metal cations by biological systems can be compared with the geochemical criteria for isomorphous replacement. Biological systems are more highly selective and much more rapid. Methods of maintaining an optimum concentration, including storage and transfer for the essential trace elements, copper and iron, used in some organisms are in part reproducible by coordination chemists while other features have not been reporduced in models. Poisoning can result from a foreign metal taking part in a reaction irreversibly so that the recognition site or molecule is not released. For major nutrients, sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, there are similarities to the trace metals in selective uptake but differences qualitatively and quantitatively in biological activity. Compounds selective for potassium replace all the solvation sphere with a symmetrical arrangement of oxygen atoms; those selective for sodium give an asymmetrical environment with retention of a solvent molecule. Experiments with naturally occurring antibiotics and synthetic model compounds have shown that flexibility is an important feature of selectivity and that for transfer or carrier properties there is an optimum (as opposed to a maximum) metal-ligand stability constant. Thallium is taken up instead of potassium and will activate some enzymes; it is suggested that the poisonous characteristics arise because the thallium ion may bind more strongly than potassium to part of a site and then fail to bind additional atoms as required for the biological activity. Criteria for the design of selective complexing agents are given with indications of those which might transfer more than one metal at once.

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Accession: 027276032

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PMID: 1815

DOI: 10.1098/rstb.1975.0068


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