Screening for Improved Nerve Agent Simulants and Insights into Organophosphate Hydrolysis Reactions from DFT and QSAR Modeling

Matthew L. Mendonca, Randall Q. Snurr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The effective detoxification of chemical warfare agents, specifically nerve agents, is a pressing issue in the modern world. Due to the high toxicity of these molecules, simulants are often used in experiments as substitutes for the agents. However, there is little reason to believe that the current simulants used in the literature are optimal predictors of nerve agent reactivity. Density functional theory calculations were performed on the alkaline hydrolysis of over 100 organophosphate molecules to identify improved simulants for the G-series nerve agents soman and sarin, based on low toxicity and similarity to nerve agent hydrolysis energetics and degradation mechanism. This screening highlighted 5 molecules that have nearly identical reaction barriers to the actual agents, while being far less toxic. Quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) models were also derived to determine the most significant molecular descriptors for describing the hydrolysis free energy barriers of these reactions. The optimal QSAR model was subjected to a thorough statistical analysis and validation procedure to confirm its predictive capacity, showing excellent quantitative and ranking accuracy. It was further shown that the model trained on G-series agents can reliably predict energetics for other organophosphate classes as well, including VX. Through these computational insights, experimentalists may be aided in accurately and safely studying these reactions with less toxic simulants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9217-9229
Number of pages13
JournalChemistry (Weinheim an der Bergstrasse, Germany)
Issue number39
StatePublished - Jul 11 2019


  • DFT
  • QSAR
  • hydrolysis
  • nerve agents
  • simulants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Organic Chemistry


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