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Amides can undergo either acid-catalyzed hydrolysis or base-promoted hydrolysis through a typical nucleophilic acyl substitution. Each hydrolysis requires severe conditions.

Acid-catalyzed hydrolysis:

Hydrolysis of amides under acidic conditions yields carboxylic acids. Since the reaction occurs slowly, hydrolysis requires the conditions of heat.

The mechanism begins with the protonation of the carbonyl oxygen by the acid catalyst. The protonation makes the amide carbonyl carbon more electrophilic. Next, water acts as a nucleophile and attacks the carbonyl carbon to form a tetrahedral intermediate. Further, deprotonation of the tetrahedral intermediate gives a neutral tetrahedral addition intermediate. Subsequent protonation of the amino nitrogen converts the amino group into a better leaving group. In the next step, the carbonyl group is re-formed with the departure of ammonia as a leaving group. A final deprotonation step yields a carboxylic acid.


The formation of ammonium ion drives the equilibrium favoring the product formation.

Base-promoted hydrolysis:

Base-promoted hydrolysis is another nucleophilic acyl substitution reaction, where hydroxide acts as a nucleophile. Amides undergo hydrolysis when heated under basic aqueous solutions to produce carboxylic acid.

The base-promoted mechanism involves a nucleophilic attack by the hydroxide ion at the amide carbonyl carbon to form a tetrahedral intermediate. In the second step, the carbonyl group is reconstructed with the departure of an amide ion as a leaving group. Next, deprotonation yields a carboxylate ion and ammonia. This step drives the reaction to completion, which pushes the equilibrium towards the product. A final step involves acidification of the carboxylate ion to give free acid.


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