Copper-catalyzed retro-aldol reaction of β-hydroxy ketones or nitriles with aldehydes: chemo- and stereoselective access to (E)-enones and (E)-acrylonitriles†
A copper-catalyzed transfer aldol type reaction of β-hydroxy ketones or nitriles with aldehydes is reported, which enables chemo- and stereoselective access to (E)-α,β-unsaturated ketones and (E)-acrylonitriles. A key step of the in situ copper(I)-promoted retro-aldol reaction of β-hydroxy ketones or nitriles is proposed to generate a reactive Cu(I) enolate or cyanomethyl intermediate, which undergoes ensuing aldol condensation with aldehydes to deliver the products. This reaction uses 1.2 mol% Cu(IPr)Cl (IPr denotes 1,3-bis(2,6-diisopropylphenyl)imidazol-2-ylidene) as the catalyst in the presence of 6.0 mol% NaOtBu cocatalyst at room temperature or 70 °C. A range of aryl and heteroaryl aldehydes as well as acrylaldehydes are compatible with many useful functional groups being tolerated. Under the mild and weakly basic conditions, competitive Cannizzaro-type reaction of benzaldehydes and side reactions of base-sensitive functional groups can be effectively suppressed, which show synthetic advantages of this reaction compared to classic aldol reactions. The synthetic potential of this reaction is further demonstrated by the one-step synthesis of biologically active quinolines and 1,8-naphthyridine in excellent yields (up to 91%). Finally, a full catalytic cycle for this reaction has been constructed using DFT computational studies in the context of a retro-aldol/aldol two-stage mechanism. A rather flat reaction energy profile is found indicating that both stages are kinetically facile, which is consistent with the mild reaction conditions.