Aldol Reaction - Modern Variations and Methods - Organocatalysis


A more recent development is the use of chiral secondary amine catalysts. These secondary amines form transient enamines when exposed to ketones, which may react enantioselectively with suitable aldehyde electrophiles. The amine reacts with the carbonyl to form an enamine, the enamine acts as an enol-like nucleophile, and then the amine is released from the product all—the amine itself is a catalyst. This enamine catalysis method is a type of organocatalysis, since the catalyst is entirely based on a small organic molecule. In a seminal example, proline efficiently catalyzed the cyclization of a triketone:

This reaction is known as the Hajos-Parrish reaction (also known as the Hajos-Parrish-Eder-Sauer-Wiechert reaction, referring to a contemporaneous report from Schering of the reaction under harsher conditions). Under the Hajos-Parrish conditions only a catalytic amount of proline is necessary (3 mol%). There is no danger of an achiral background reaction because the transient enamine intermediates are much more nucleophilic than their parent ketone enols. This strategy is particularly powerful because it offers a simple way of generating enantioselectivity in reactions without using transition metals, which have the possible disadvantages of being toxic or expensive.

It is interesting to note that proline-catalyzed aldol reactions do not show any non-linear effects (the enantioselectivity of the products is directly proportional to the enantiopurity of the catalyst). Combined with isotopic labelling evidence and computational studies, the proposed reaction mechanism for proline-catalyzed aldol reactions is as follows:

This strategy allows the otherwise challenging cross-aldol reaction between two aldehydes. In general, cross-aldol reactions between aldehydes are typically challenging because they can polymerize easily or react unselectively to give a statistical mixture of products. The first example is shown below:

In contrast to the preference for syn adducts typically observed in enolate-based aldol additions, these organocatalyzed aldol additions are anti-selective. In many cases, the organocatalytic conditions are mild enough to avoid polymerization. However, selectivity requires the slow syringe-pump controlled addition of the desired electrophilic partner because both reacting partners typically have enolizable protons. If one aldehyde has no enolizable protons or alpha- or beta-branching, additional control can be achieved.

An elegant demonstration of the power of asymmetric organocatalytic aldol reactions was disclosed by MacMillan and coworkers in 2004 in their synthesis of differentially protected carbohydrates. While traditional synthetic methods accomplish the synthesis of hexoses using variations of iterative protection-deprotection strategies, requiring 8–14 steps, organocatalysis can access many of the same substrates using an efficient two-step protocol involving the proline-catalyzed dimerization of alpha-oxyaldehydes followed by tandem Mukaiyama aldol cyclization.

The aldol dimerization of alpha-oxyaldehydes requires that the aldol adduct, itself an aldehyde, be inert to further aldol reactions. Earlier studies revealed that aldehydes bearing alpha-alkyloxy or alpha-silyloxy substituents were suitable for this reaction, while aldehydes bearing Electron-withdrawing groups such as acetoxy were unreactive. The protected erythrose product could then be converted to four possible sugars via Mukaiyama aldol addition followed by lactol formation. This requires appropriate diastereocontrol in the Mukaiyama aldol addition and the product silyloxycarbenium ion to preferentially cyclize, rather than undergo further aldol reaction. In the end, glucose, mannose, and allose were synthesized:

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