I stumbled upon this paper when I'm trying to look at established protocol to synthesize one of the compounds (compound IIk) mentioned in the paper.
The paper described transformation of aromatic nitro compounds into o-aminoaroylnitriles by ethyl cyanoacetate in the presence of strong base. While the general scheme showed fused aromatics, this reaction also works for any electron-withdrawing (in addition to the nitro) containing single aromatics.
I have replicate the reaction for compound IIk and I was abled to purified the compound with yield consistent with what was described in the paper.
I have never seen this kind of transformation before, especially with ethyl cyanoacetate. The paper itself mentioned that the mechanism is unknown and I haven't found any subsequent papers that try to elucidate the mechanism.
Anyone has any idea how this reaction works?