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J Am Chem Soc. 2004 May 12;126(18):5806-16.

Mechanism of host-guest complexation by cucurbituril.

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School of Engineering and Science, International University Bremen, Campus Ring 1, D-28759 Bremen, Germany.


The factors affecting host-guest complexation between the molecular container compound cucurbit[6]uril (CB6) and various guests in aqueous solution are studied, and a detailed complexation mechanism in the presence of cations is derived. The formation of the supramolecular complex is studied in detail for cyclohexylmethylammonium ion as guest. The kinetics and thermodynamics of complexation is monitored by NMR as a function of temperature, salt concentration, and cation size. The binding constants and the ingression rate constants decrease with increasing salt concentration and cation-binding constant, in agreement with a competitive binding of the ammonium site of the guest and the metal cation with the ureido carbonyl portals of CB6. Studies as a function of guest size indicate that the effective container volume of the CB6 cavity is approximately 105 A(3). It is suggested that larger guests are excluded for two reasons: a high activation barrier for ingression imposed by the tight CB6 portals and a destabilization of the complex due to steric repulsion inside. For example, in the case of the nearly spherical azoalkane homologues 2,3-diazabicyclo[2.2.1]hept-2-ene (DBH, volume ca. 96 A(3)) and 2,3-diazabicyclo[2.2.2]oct-2-ene (DBO, volume ca. 110 A(3)), the former forms the CB6 complex promptly with a sizable binding constant (1300 M(-1)), while the latter does not form a complex even after several months at optimized complexation conditions. Molecular mechanics calculations are performed for several CB6/guest complexes. A qualitative agreement is found between experimental and calculated activation energies for ingression as a function of both guest size and state of protonation. The potential role of constrictive binding by CB6 is discussed.

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