Urocanic acid, imidazole propenoic acid, is a metabolic product of histidine, which accumulates in skin and is excreted in sweat. It absorbs UV radiation at wavelengths shorter than 340 nm, and its principal photochemical reaction is a trans–cis isomerization about the propenyl double bond. This isomerization to the biologically active cis isomer is implicated in the photoinduced suppression of the immune system of skin. The kinetics of the trans → cis photoisomerization of urocanic acid has been determined in a number of solvents, spanning a range of polarities. The initial rates of isomerization and the photostationary trans–cis compositions, in all solvents except water, correlate linearly with solvent polarity. This indicates that the isomerization proceeds through a polar intermediate that is stabilized by coulombic interactions with the molecular environment.
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Vol. 80 • No. 2