Origin of rate enhancement and asynchronicity in iminium catalyzed Diels–Alder reactions†
The Diels–Alder reactions between cyclopentadiene and various α,β-unsaturated aldehyde, imine, and iminium dienophiles were quantum chemically studied using a combined density functional theory and coupled-cluster theory approach. Simple iminium catalysts accelerate the Diels–Alder reactions by lowering the reaction barrier up to 20 kcal mol−1 compared to the parent aldehyde and imine reactions. Our detailed activation strain and Kohn–Sham molecular orbital analyses reveal that the iminium catalysts enhance the reactivity by reducing the steric (Pauli) repulsion between the diene and dienophile, which originates from both a more asynchronous reaction mode and a more significant polarization of the π-system away from the incoming diene compared to aldehyde and imine analogs. Notably, we establish that the driving force behind the asynchronicity of the herein studied Diels–Alder reactions is the relief of destabilizing steric (Pauli) repulsion and not the orbital interaction between the terminal carbon of the dienophile and the diene, which is the widely accepted rationale.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry – Asymmetric Organocatalysis