Journal of Computer-Aided Molecular Design

, Volume 29, Issue 8, pp 725–735 | Cite as

Automated computational screening of the thiol reactivity of substituted alkenes

  • Jennifer M. Smith
  • Christopher N. Rowley


Electrophilic olefins can react with the S–H moiety of cysteine side chains. The formation of a covalent adduct through this mechanism can result in the inhibition of an enzyme. The reactivity of an olefin towards cysteine depends on its functional groups. In this study, 325 reactions of thiol-Michael-type additions to olefins were modeled using density functional theory. All combinations of ethenes with hydrogen, methyl ester, amide, and cyano substituents were included. An automated workflow was developed to perform the construction, conformation search, minimization, and calculation of molecular properties for the reactant, carbanion intermediate, and thioether products for a model reaction of the addition of methanethiol to the electrophile. Known cysteine-reactive electrophiles present in the database were predicted to react exergonically with methanethiol through a carbanion with a stability in the 30–40 kcal mol−1 range. 13 other compounds in our database that are also present in the PubChem database have similar properties. Natural bond orbital parameters were computed and regression analysis was used to determine the relationship between properties of the olefin electronic structure and the product and intermediate stability. The stability of the intermediates is very sensitive to electronic effects on the carbon where the anionic charge is centered. The stability of the products is more sensitive to steric factors.


Electrophiles Thiol Michael addition DFT Carbanion intermediate Computational high-throughput screening Irreversible inhibition Covalent modifier 



We thank NSERC of Canada for funding through a Discovery Grant (Application No. 418505-2012) and an Undergraduate Student Research Award for JMS. JMS thanks the Dean of Science of Memorial University for a travel grant. Computational resources were provided by the Compute Canada Consortium (CCI: djk-615-ac). We thank Archita Adluri for proofreading the manuscript. We thank the reviewers for meticulous examination of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10822_2015_9857_MOESM1_ESM.txt (43 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (TXT 42 kb)
10822_2015_9857_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (2.1 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 2188 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ChemistryMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John’sCanada

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