Growing attention has been devoted in the recent years to a class of metallamacrocycles known as metallacrowns (MCs). They are structural analogues of crown ethers where the methylene bridges have been substituted by coordinative bonds formed by a transition metal ion ("ring" metal) and a nitrogen atom. The cavity of the metallacrown can accommodate an additional metal ion ("core" metal) either identical or different from the ring metal, thus forming a homo- or hetero-metallic MC. The most studied ring metal ion is certainly Cu(2+) and the aminohydroxamic acids have proved to be very suitable ligands to form MCs. The behavioural analogies between Cu(2+) and Ni(2+) in forming complexes, along with recent literature data in the solid state, prompted us to investigate the possible MC formation between Ni(2+) and both (S)-α-alaninehydroxamic acid and (S)-valinehydroxamic acid, in aqueous solution. Two metallacrowns, a 12-MC-4 and an unexpected 15-MC-5 have been detected by potentiometry and confirmed by ESI-MS results. Their structures are discussed on the basis of potentiometric, calorimetric, spectroscopic data and DFT calculations. The existence of a vacant 15-MC-5 species in solution can be put forward for the first time, making the present metal/ligand systems very interesting for their potential applications in cation recognition and separation. Finally, the crystal structure of the binary complex K[NiL(2)H(-1)]·5/3 H(2)O of (S)-α-alaninehydroxamic acid (LH) is also reported.
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