Electron-Electron Dipolar Interaction Poses a Challenge to the Radical Pair Mechanism of Magnetoreception

J Phys Chem Lett. 2020 Apr 2;11(7):2414-2421. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.0c00370. Epub 2020 Mar 12.


A visual magnetic sense in migratory birds has been hypothesized to rely on a radical pair reaction in the protein cryptochrome. In this model, magnetic sensitivity originates from coherent spin dynamics, as the radicals couple to magnetic nuclei via hyperfine interactions. Prior studies have often neglected the electron-electron dipolar (EED) coupling from this hypothesis. We show that EED interactions suppress the anisotropic response to the geomagnetic field by the radical pair mechanism in cryptochrome and that this attenuation is unlikely to be mitigated by mutual cancellation of the EED and electronic exchange coupling, as previously suggested. We then demonstrate that this limitation may be overcome by extending the conventional model to include a third, nonreacting radical. We predict that hyperfine effects could work in concert with three-radical dipolar interactions to tailor a superior magnetic response, thereby providing a new principle for magnetosensitivity with applications for sensing, navigation, and the assessment of biological magnetic field effects.