Photosynthesis produces molecular oxygen from water catalyzed by an enzyme whose active site contains a tetramanganese-oxo core of incompletely established structure. The first functional mimic of this core has been synthesized containing a cubical [Mn4O4](n+) core, surrounded by six facially bridging bidentate chelates to the manganese ions ((dpp)6Mn4O4 (1); dpp- = diphenylphosphinate anion). Bond enthalpy data predict that the Mn4O46+ core is thermodynamically capable of releasing molecular O2, but is kinetically prevented from doing so by an activation barrier. UV light absorption into a Mn-O charge-transfer excited state (but not excitation of a Mn ligand-field excited state) efficiently releases an O2 molecule if performed in the gas phase and concomitantly releases a bridging dpp- anion and the cationic species (dpp)5Mn4O2+ (presumed Mn4O2-butterfly core type). All species were identified by high resolution mass spectrometry. This reaction proceeds with high quantum efficiency (>50%) and is the only observable reaction channel. The O2 product derived exclusively from the comer oxo's of the cube based on photochemistry of the 18O-isotopomer, ((dpp)6Mn4(18O)4. Neither O2 release nor dpp- dissociation are observed individually to occur in the excited state, indicating that O-O bond formation and O2 release require dissociation of one of the six dpp- chelates ('Jack-in-the-Box' mechanism for O2 formation). By contrast, neither O2 production nor chelate photodissociation are observed in condensed phases, presumably due to either quenching of the photoexcited state or rapid recombination of dpp- and (dpp)5Mn4O4+ in the solvent cage. Previous results show that chemical reduction of (1) in solution using hydrogen atom donors produces the deoxygenated (dpp)6Mn4O2 core and releases two water molecules as the only products. Thus the [Mn4O4](n+) cubane core is an intrinsically reactive core topology that facilitates both the selective chemical reduction of two of the four oxygen atom bridges to water molecules and their photorearrangement to an O2 molecule under the control of chelation of the manganese ions by dpp-. These results may offer insight into the possible nature of the photosynthetic O2-evolving mechanism.
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