Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

Thermodynamic stability of mercury(II) complexes formed with environmentally relevant low-molecular-mass thiols studied by competing ligand exchange and density functional theory

Liem-Nguyen, Van; Skyllberg, Ulf; Nam, Kwangho; Bjoern, Erik


Inorganic divalent mercury (Hg-II) has a very high affinity for reduced sulfur functional groups. Reports from laboratory experiments suggest that Hg-II complexes with specific low-molecular-mass (LMM) thiol (RSH) ligands control rates of Hg-II transformation reactions. Because of methodological limitations for precise determination of the highly stable Hg-II complexes with LMM thiol ligands, constants reported in the literature remain inconsistent. This uncertainty impedes accurate modelling of the chemical speciation of Hg-II and the possibility to elucidate the role of Hg-II complexes with LMM thiols for Hg transformation reactions. Here, we report values of thermodynamic stability constants for 15 monodentate, two-coordinated Hg-II complexes, Hg(SR)(2), formed with biogeochemically relevant LMM thiol ligands. The constants were determined by a two-step ligand-exchange procedure where the specific Hg(SR)(2) complexes were quantified by liquid chromatography-inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Thermodynamic stability constants (log (2)) determined for the Hg(SR)(2) complexes ranged from 34.6, N-cysteinylglycine, to 42.1, 3-mercaptopropionic acid, for the general reaction Hg2++2RS(-) Hg(SR)(2). Density functional theory (DFT) calculations showed that electron-donating carboxyl and carbonyl groups have a stabilising effect on the Hg-II-LMM thiol complexes, whereas electron-withdrawing protonated primary amino groups have a destabilising effect. Experimental results and DFT calculations demonstrated that the presence of such functional groups in the vicinity of the RSH group caused significant differences in the stability of Hg(SR)(2) complexes. These differences are expected to be important for the chemical speciation of Hg-II and its transformation reactions in environments where a multitude of LMM thiol compounds are present.


Alkaline Aqueous-Solution; Amino-Acids; Constants; Cysteine; Glutathione; Hg(Ii); Human-Erythrocytes; Methylation; Nuclear Magnetic-Resonance; Thermochemistry

Published in

Environmental Chemistry
2017, volume: 14, number: 4, pages: 243-253

Authors' information

Liem-Nguyen, Van
Umeå University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Björn, Erik
Umeå University

UKÄ Subject classification

Organic Chemistry

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)