Deuterium isotope effects on noncovalent interactions between molecules

Chem Biol Interact. 1999 Feb 12;117(3):191-217. doi: 10.1016/s0009-2797(98)00097-0.


The topic of deuterium isotope effects is usually concerned with the effects on chemical reactions that are caused by the substitution of deuterium atoms for protium, or hydrogen, atoms in a molecule. These effects include changes in the rate of cleavage of covalent bonds to deuterium, or to an atom located adjacent to deuterium, in a reactant molecule. Deuterium isotope effects on other, noncovalent, interactions between molecules are known to occur, but they are generally considered to be insignificant, especially in biological experiments where deuterium substituted molecules are used as tracers. Noncovalent interactions between molecules include hydrogen bonding, and ionic and van der Waals interactions. This article reviews evidence for deuterium isotope effects on noncovalent interactions, with an emphasis on binding interactions between molecules of biological interest, but also including examples of nonbiological molecules in order to demonstrate the generality of these effects. The reality of this effect relies on the assumption that the only difference between the isotopomers considered is the presence of deuterium or hydrogen; there are no impurities present. The physical basis of the effect may be due to differences in the polarities and/or sizes of deuterated versus nondeuterated isomers, and the extent of a deuterium isotope effect on a noncovalent interaction depends on the site of deuteration within a biomolecule. The presence of this effect requires careful interpretation of results obtained in experiments with deuterium labeled compounds.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Deuterium / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Isotope Labeling*
  • Molecular Structure


  • Deuterium