In this work, hybrid functional and G4 methods were employed in the rational design of carbonitrile-carboxaldehyde receptor models for cation recognition. Electron-sharing and ionic interactions between the models and the cations were analyzed utilizing the concepts of overlap population, atomic valence, electrostatic potential, and CHELPG charge in order to elucidate the nature of the heteroatom-metal interaction, the N versus O disparity, and the effect of pH. Receptor fragment models from ionomycin were employed to rationalize the selection of receptor models for discriminating group I cations and enhancing the selectivity for Mg(II) rather than Ca(II), and to examine the effects of keto-enol forms and negatively charged sites. The changes in geometries, overlap population, metal valence, and CHELPG charge upon solvation in heptane medium as compared to the gas phase were negligible. The optimized geometries reveal that the interaction between group II cations and the keto, enol, and enolate forms of 2-cyanoethanal causes 12 % bending of the C-C-N angle from linearity. Overlap populations show that the electron-sharing interaction favors group II cations but that the same mechanism allows Li(I) to compete. The total spin of Li(I) is 17 % greater than that of Ca(II), but the G4 binding energies of the two are separated by more than 50 kcal/mol, favoring group II cations, which may eliminate interference from Li(I). 1,2-Dicyanoethylene, which has only one form, shows similar characteristics. CHELPG analysis shows that Mg(II) transfers 25 and 18 % of its positive charge to 2-cyanoethanal enolate and 1,2-dicyanoethylene, respectively. Hydrogen atoms receive most of the positive charge in both receptors, but the N-termini exhibit strikingly different characteristics. Electrostatic potential contour profiles were found to be in good agreement with the atomic charge distributions. The application of uncharged 1,3-dicarbonyl and 2-cyanocarbonyl receptors and a judicious choice of polymeric membrane that suppresses the Hofmeister effect should lead to high selectivity for magnesium, whereas the utilization of multiple negatively charged ionophores should result in selectivity for calcium.
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