CO2 Reduction Catalyzed by Nitrogenase: Pathways to Formate, Carbon Monoxide, and Methane

Nimesh Khadka, Dennis R. Dean, Dayle Smith, Brian M. Hoffman*, Simone Raugei, Lance C. Seefeldt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The reduction of N2 to NH3 by Mo-dependent nitrogenase at its active-site metal cluster FeMo-cofactor utilizes reductive elimination of Fe-bound hydrides with obligatory loss of H2 to activate the enzyme for binding/reduction of N2. Earlier work showed that wild-type nitrogenase and a nitrogenase with amino acid substitutions in the MoFe protein near FeMo-cofactor can catalytically reduce CO2 by two or eight electrons/protons to carbon monoxide (CO) and methane (CH4) at low rates. Here, it is demonstrated that nitrogenase preferentially reduces CO2 by two electrons/protons to formate (HCOO-) at rates >10 times higher than rates of CO2 reduction to CO and CH4. Quantum mechanical calculations on the doubly reduced FeMo-cofactor with a Fe-bound hydride and S-bound proton (E2(2H) state) favor a direct reaction of CO2 with the hydride ("direct hydride transfer" reaction pathway), with facile hydride transfer to CO2 yielding formate. In contrast, a significant barrier is observed for reaction of Fe-bound CO2 with the hydride ("associative" reaction pathway), which leads to CO and CH4. Remarkably, in the direct hydride transfer pathway, the Fe-H behaves as a hydridic hydrogen, whereas in the associative pathway it acts as a protic hydrogen. MoFe proteins with amino acid substitutions near FeMo-cofactor (α-70Val→Ala, α-195His→Gln) are found to significantly alter the distribution of products between formate and CO/CH4.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8321-8330
Number of pages10
JournalInorganic chemistry
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 6 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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