Catalytic activation of hydroxyl functionalities is of great interest for the production of pharmaceuticals and commodity chemicals. Here, 2-alkoxycarbonyl- and 2-phenoxycarbonyl-phenylboronic acid were identified as efficient catalysts for the direct and chemoselective activation of oxime N-OH bonds in the Beckmann rearrangement. This classical organic reaction provides a unique approach to prepare functionalized amide products that may be difficult to access using traditional amide coupling between carboxylic acids and amines. Using only 5 mol % of boronic acid catalyst and perfluoropinacol as an additive in a polar solvent mixture, the operationally simple protocol features mild conditions, a broad substrate scope, and a high functional group tolerance. A wide variety of diaryl, aryl-alkyl, heteroaryl-alkyl, and dialkyl oximes react under ambient conditions to afford high yields of amide products. Free alcohols, amides, carboxyesters, and many other functionalities are compatible with the reaction conditions. Investigations of the catalytic cycle revealed a novel boron-induced oxime transesterification providing an acyl oxime intermediate involved in a fully catalytic nonself-propagating Beckmann rearrangement mechanism. The acyl oxime intermediate was prepared independently and was subjected to the reaction conditions. It was found to be self-sufficient; it reacts rapidly, unimolecularly without the need for free oxime. A series of control experiments and 18O labeling studies support a true catalytic pathway involving an ionic transition structure with an active and essential role for the boronyl moiety in both steps of transesterification and rearrangement. According to 11B NMR spectroscopic studies, the additive perfluoropinacol provides a transient, electrophilic boronic ester that is thought to serve as an internal Lewis acid to activate the ortho-carboxyester and accelerate the initial, rate-limiting step of transesterification between the precatalyst and the oxime substrate.
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