Catalysis in a Cationic Coordination Cage Using a Cavity-Bound Guest and Surface-Bound Anions: Inhibition, Activation, and Autocatalysis

The Kemp elimination (reaction of benz­isox­azole with base to give 2-cyanophenolate) is catalyzed in the cavity of a cubic M8L12 coordination cage because of a combination of (i) benz­isox­azole binding in the cage cavity driven by the hydrophobic effect, and (ii) accumulation of hydroxide ions around the 16+ cage surface driven by ion-pairing. Here we show how reaction of the cavity-bound guest is modified by the presence of other anions which can also accumulate around the cage surface and displace hydroxide, inhibiting catalysis of the cage-based reaction. Addition of chloride or fluoride inhibits the reaction with hydroxide to the extent that a new autocatalytic pathway becomes apparent, resulting in a sigmoidal reaction profile. In this pathway the product 2-cyanophenolate itself accumulates around the cationic cage surface, acting as the base for the next reaction cycle. The affinity of different anions for the cage surface is therefore 2-cyanophenolate (generating autocatalysis) > chloride > fluoride (which both inhibit the reaction with hydroxide but cannot deprotonate the benz­isox­azole guest) > hydroxide (default reaction pathway). The presence of this autocatalytic pathway demonstrates that a reaction of a cavity-bound guest can be induced with different anions around the cage surface in a controllable way; this was confirmed by adding different phenolates to the reaction, which accelerate the Kemp elimination to different extents depending on their basicity. This represents a significant step toward the goal of using the cage as a catalyst for bimolecular reactions between a cavity-bound guest and anions accumulated around the surface.