Probing Non-Covalent Interactions through Molecular Balances: A REG-IQA Study

Fabio Falcioni, Sophie Bennett, Pallas Stroer-Jarvis, Paul l. a. Popelier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The interaction energies of two series of molecular balances (1-X with X = H, Me, OMe, NMe2 and 2-Y with Y = H, CN, NO2, OMe, NMe2) designed to probe carbonyl…carbonyl interactions were analysed at the B3LYP/6-311++G(d,p)-D3 level of theory using the energy partitioning method of Interacting Quantum Atoms/Fragments (IQA/IQF). The partitioned energies are analysed by the Relative Energy Gradient (REG) method, which calculates the correlation between these energies and the total energy of a system, thereby explaining the role atoms have in the energetic behaviour of the total system. The traditional “back-of-the-envelope” open and closed conformations of molecular balances do not correspond to those of the lowest energy. Hence, more care needs to be taken when considering which geometries to use for comparison with the experiment. The REG-IQA method shows that the 1-H and 1-OMe balances behave differently to the 1-Me and 1-NMe2 balances because the latter show more prominent electrostatics between carbonyl groups and undergoes a larger dihedral rotation due to the bulkiness of the functional groups. For the 2-Y balance, REG-IQA shows the same behaviour across the series as the 1-H and 1-OMe balances. From an atomistic point of view, the formation of the closed conformer is favoured by polarisation and charge-transfer effects on the amide bond across all balances and is counterbalanced by a de-pyramidalisation of the amide nitrogen. Moreover, focusing on the oxygen of the amide carbonyl and the α-carbon of the remaining carbonyl group, electrostatics have a major role in the formation of the closed conformer, which goes against the well-known n-π* interaction orbital overlap concept. However, REG-IQF shows that exchange–correlation energies overtake electrostatics for all the 2-Y balances when working with fragments around the carbonyl groups, while they act on par with electrostatics for the 1-OMe and 1-NMe2. REG-IQF also shows that exchange–correlation energies in the 2-Y balance are correlated to the inductive electron-donating and -withdrawing trends on aromatic groups. We demonstrate that methods such as REG-IQA/IQF can help with the fine-tuning of molecular balances prior to the experiment and that the energies that govern the probed interactions are highly dependent on the atoms and functional groups involved.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1043
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2024


  • Relative Energy Gradient (REG)
  • molecular balances
  • quantum chemical topology (QCT)
  • IQA
  • DFT
  • conformational analysis


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