Using Visible Light to Tune Boronic Acid-Ester Equilibria

Joseph V. Accardo, Emily R. McClure, Martín A. Mosquera, Julia A. Kalow*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


We report a series of azobenzene boronic acids that reversibly control the extent of diol binding via photochemical isomerization. When the boronic acid is ortho to the azo group, the thermodynamically favored E isomer binds weakly with diols to form boronic esters. The isomerization of the (E)-azobenzene to its Z isomer enhances diol binding, and the magnitude of this enhancement is affected by the azobenzene structure. 2,6-Dimethoxy azobenzene boronic acids show an over 20-fold enhancement in binding upon E → Z isomerization, which can be triggered with red light. Competition experiments and computational studies suggest that the changes in the binding affinity originate from the stabilization of the (E)-boronic acids and the destabilization of the (E)-boronic esters. We demonstrate a correlation between diol binding and the photostationary state, such that different wavelengths of irradiation yield different quantities of the bound diol. Higher binding constants for the Z isomer relative to the E isomer were observed with all diols investigated, including cyclic diols, nitrocatechol, biologically relevant compounds, and polyols. This photoswitch was employed to "catch and release"a fluorophore-tagged diol in buffered water. By tethering this photoswitch to a poly(ethylene glycol) star polymer, we can tune the stiffness of covalent adaptable hydrogels using different wavelengths of visible light. This paper describes how structural modifications of azobenzenes can influence the isomerism-dependent thermodynamics of their dynamic covalent bonds with small molecules and macromolecules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19969-19979
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 25 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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