Acetylation (or in IUPAC nomenclature ethanoylation) describes a reaction that introduces an acetyl functional group into a chemical compound. (Deacetylation is the removal of the acetyl group.)
Specifically, acetylation refers to that process of introducing an acetyl group (resulting in an acetoxy group) into a compound, to be specific, the substitution of an acetyl group for an active hydrogen atom. A reaction involving the replacement of the hydrogen atom of a hydroxyl group with an acetyl group (CH3 CO) yields a specific ester, the acetate. Acetic anhydride is commonly used as an acetylating agent reacting with free hydroxyl groups. For example, it is used in the synthesis of aspirin and heroin.
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