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J Org Chem. 2008 Nov 7;73(21):8189-97. doi: 10.1021/jo801104t. Epub 2008 Oct 1.

The Curtius rearrangement of cyclopropyl and cyclopropenoyl azides. A combined theoretical and experimental mechanistic study.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware 19716, USA.


A combined experimental and theoretical study addresses the concertedness of the thermal Curtius rearrangement. The kinetics of the Curtius rearrangements of methyl 1-azidocarbonyl cycloprop-2-ene-1-carboxylate and methyl 1-azidocarbonyl cyclopropane-1-carboxylate were studied by (1)H NMR spectroscopy, and there is close agreement between calculated and experimental enthalpies and entropies of activation. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations (B3LYP/6-311+G(d,p)) on these same acyl azides suggest gas phase barriers of 27.8 and 25.1 kcal/mol. By comparison, gas phase activation barriers for the rearrangement of acetyl, pivaloyl, and phenyl azides are 27.6, 27.4, and 30.0 kcal/mol, respectively. The barrier for the concerted Curtius reaction of acetyl azide at the CCSD(T)/6-311+G(d,p) level exhibited a comparable activation energy of 26.3 kcal/mol. Intrinsic reaction coordinate (IRC) analyses suggest that all of the rearrangements occur by a concerted pathway with the concomitant loss of N2. The lower activation energy for the rearrangement of methyl 1-azidocarbonyl cycloprop-2-ene-1-carboxylate relative to methyl 1-azidocarbonyl cyclopropane-1-carboxylate was attributed to a weaker bond between the carbonyl carbon and the three-membered ring in the former compound. Calculations on the rearrangement of cycloprop-2-ene-1-oyl azides do not support pi-stabilization of the transition state by the cyclopropene double bond. A comparison of reaction pathways at the CBS-QB3 level for the Curtius rearrangement versus the loss of N2 to form a nitrene intermediate provides strong evidence that the concerted Curtius rearrangement is the dominant process.

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