We recently reported a new method for the direct dehydrogenative C–H silylation of heteroaromatics utilizing Earth-abundant potassium tert-butoxide. Herein we report a systematic experimental and computational mechanistic investigation of this transformation. Our experimental results are consistent with a radical chain mechanism. A trialkylsilyl radical may be initially generated by homolytic cleavage of a weakened Si–H bond of a hypercoordinated silicon species as detected by IR, or by traces of oxygen which can generate a reactive peroxide by reaction with [KOt-Bu]4 as indicated by density functional theory (DFT) calculations. Radical clock and kinetic isotope experiments support a mechanism in which the C–Si bond is formed through silyl radical addition to the heterocycle followed by subsequent β-hydrogen scission. DFT calculations reveal a reasonable energy profile for a radical mechanism and support the experimentally observed regioselectivity. The silylation reaction is shown to be reversible, with an equilibrium favoring products due to the generation of H2 gas. In situ NMR experiments with deuterated substrates show that H2 is formed by a cross-dehydrogenative mechanism. The stereochemical course at the silicon center was investigated utilizing a 2H-labeled silolane probe; complete scrambling at the silicon center was observed, consistent with a number of possible radical intermediates or hypercoordinate silicates.


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