Thermodynamically and Kinetically Controlled Reactions in Biocatalysis – from Concepts to Perspectives

Stefan R. Marsden, Luuk Mestrom, Duncan G.G. McMillan, Ulf Hanefeld*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleScientificpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)
359 Downloads (Pure)


The enzymatic synthesis of esters and peptides is unfavoured in aqueous solvent systems due to competing hydrolysis. This can be overcome by using energy rich substrate analogues: elimination of a good leaving group temporarily establishes more favourable equilibrium conditions, allowing for (nearly) complete conversion. While kinetically controlled syntheses of esters and peptides in water are common knowledge in biocatalysis textbooks, the prevalence of kinetic control is less well known for other enzyme classes. Here, the general concepts of thermodynamic and kinetic control are illustrated at the example of the well-studied synthesis of β-lactam antibiotics and are shown to similarly also apply to other enzyme classes. Notably, the enzymatic synthesis of diastereomers shows the same characteristic energy profile as that of Diels-Alder reactions. This allows for the selective synthesis of different diastereomers under either thermodynamically or kinetically controlled conditions. Prospects and pitfalls of this notion are discussed at the example of the thermodynamic epimerisation of hydroxysteroids and recent examples of kinetically controlled aldol reactions. Kinetic reaction control can therefore not only be used to increase conversions towards a single product, but also to selectively afford different diastereomers. This review highlights the prevalence of both concepts within the field of biocatalysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-437
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Asymmetric synthesis
  • Biocatalysis
  • Diastereomers
  • Kinetic control
  • Thermodynamic control


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