NHC-catalysed benzoin condensation – is it all down to the Breslow intermediate?†
The Breslow catalytic cycle describing the benzoin condensation promoted by N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHC) as proposed in the late 1950s has since then been tried by generations of physical organic chemists. Emphasis has been laid on proofing the existence of an enaminol like structure (Breslow intermediate) that explains the observed umpolung of an otherwise electrophilic aldehyde. The present study is not focusing on spectroscopic elucidation of a thiazolydene based Breslow intermediate but rather tries to clarify if this key-intermediate is indeed directly linked with the product side of the overall reaction. The here presented EPR-spectroscopic and computational data provide a fundamentally different view on how the benzoin condensation may proceed: a radical pair could be identified as a second key-intermediate that is derived from the Breslow-intermediate via an SET process. These results highlight the close relationship to the Cannizarro reaction and oxidative transformations of aldehydes under NHC catalysis.