Total synthesis of a key series of vinblastines modified at C4 that define the importance and surprising trends in activity†
The total synthesis and evaluation of a key systematic series of vinblastines that incorporate the first deep-seated changes to the substituent at C4 are detailed. The synthetic approach features an expanded and redefined scope of a 1,3,4-oxadiazole [4 + 2]/[3 + 2] cycloaddition cascade in which electronically mismatched electron-deficient trisubstituted alkenes and unactivated trisubstituted alkenes were found to productively initiate the cycloaddition cascade with tethered electron-deficient 1,3,4-oxadiazoles. Such cycloaddition cascades were used to directly introduce altered C4 substituents, providing the basis for concise total syntheses of a series of C4 modified vindolines and their subsequent single-step incorporation into the corresponding synthetic vinblastines in routes as short as 8–12 steps. Evaluation of the synthetic vinblastines revealed a surprisingly large impact and role of the C4 substituent on activity even though it was previously not thought to intimately interact with the biological target tubulin. Only the introduction of a C4 methyl ester, a constitutional isomer of vinblastine in which the carbonyl carbon and ester oxygen of the C4 acetate are transposed, provided a synthetic vinblastine that matched the potency of the natural product. In contrast, even introduction of a C4 acetamide or N-methyl carboxamide, which incorporate single heavy atom exchanges (amide NH for ester oxygen) in vinblastine or the C4 methyl ester, provided compounds that were ≥10-fold less active than vinblastine. Other C4 acetate replacements, including a C4 amine, carboxylic acid, hydroxymethyl or acetoxymethyl group, led to even greater reductions in potency. Even replacement of the C4 acetoxy group or its equally active C4 methyl ester with an ethyl or isopropyl ester led to 10-fold or more reductions in activity. These remarkable trends in activity, which correlate with relative tubulin binding affinities, retrospectively may be ascribed to the role the substituent serves as a H-bond acceptor for α-tubulin Lys336 and Asn329 side chains at a site less tolerant of a H-bond donor, placing the methyl group of the C4 acetate or C4 methyl ester in a spatially restricted and well-defined hydrophobic half pocket created by a surrounding well-ordered loop. This remarkable impact of the C4 substituent, its stringency, and even the magnitude of its effect are extraordinary, and indicate that its presence was selected in Nature to enhance the effects of vinblastine and related natural products.