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Supramolecular Catalysis of m‑Xylene Isomerization by Cucurbiturils: Transition State Stabilization, Vibrational Coupling, and Dynamic Binding Equilibrium

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posted on 20.04.2020, 15:17 by Hugues Lambert, Yong-Wei Zhang, Tung-Chun Lee
The ability of cucurbit[6]­uril (CB6) and cucurbit[7]­uril (CB7) to catalyze the thermally activated 1,2-methyl shift isomerization pathway of m-xylene in vacuum is investigated using infrequent metadynamics. CB6 is predicted to effectively and selectively catalyze the meta-to-para isomerization through stabilization of the transition state (TS) by van der Waals push (packing coefficient ≈74%), while inhibiting the meta-to-ortho pathway by molding effects of the cavity. Interestingly, despite the snug binding, a very low rate of host–guest vibrational energy transfer is revealed using a novel approach of host–guest partition of the mode-specific anharmonic relaxation rates and ab initio molecular dynamics. The weak vibrational coupling suggests that CB can act as a thermal buffer, possibly shielding encapsulated guests from outside vibrational perturbations such as solvent effects. This dynamic effect could provide an additional boost to the reaction rate by blocking the occurrence of reaction barrier recrossing caused by the friction with surrounding molecules. Finally, mean residence times of xylene into the hosts’ cavity were estimated for a range of host–guest complexes, revealing a highly dynamic equilibrium allowing very high guest turnover rates that could minimize catalyst inhibition effects commonly suffered by other supramolecular catalysts.

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