Explaining Anomalies in Enamine Catalysis: "Downstream Species" as a New Paradigm for Stereocontrol

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle


Enantioselective organocatalysis by diarylprolinol ethers is remarkably selective and efficient for a wide range of transformations involving a number of different activation modes, including HOMO activation via enamines. A simple steric model based on facial discrimination in the attack of an enamine on an electrophile has been invoked to rationalize high enantioselectivity. In a number of reactions, however, experimental observations have persistently left us with mechanistic puzzles that fail to fit neatly into this simple picture. Further studies involving both kinetic profiling of reaction networks and NMR spectroscopic characterization of the structures of intermediate species helped us to address these puzzles. This work led to the proposal of a new paradigm for stereocontrol in asymmetric aminocatalysis, demonstrating that the ultimate stereochemical outcome may not, in fact, be determined solely in the stereogenic bond-forming step between enamine and electrophile. The identification of stable species occurring downstream from the addition of an electrophile to an enamine, and the discovery of kinetic features that are diagnostic of the presence of such species, allows development of a new mechanistic framework that reveals a hierarchical selection. Both kinetic and thermodynamic processes associated with downstream intermediates can exert an influence on the ultimate enantioselectivity. Interestingly, the role of these species may be either to enhance or to erode selectivity established at the enamine-electrophile step. The reversibility of steps preceding and subsequent to the stereogenic bond-forming step is an important factor, as are reaction parameters that may stabilize or destabilize intermediates, including the nature of the electrophile counterion and the solvent. These concepts hold implications for the future design and optimization of asymmetric catalytic processes, because such design does not necessarily feature the same parameters at the second hierarchical level as it does at the first. Examples presented to highlight these issues include the conjugate addition of aldehydes to nitroalkenes and the α-chlorination and α-selenylation of aldehdyes using diarylprolinol ether catalysts commonly assumed to follow a steric model for enantioselectivity. While the new paradigm for stereocontrol involving downstream intermediates is developed here for enamine catalysis, the same concepts may hold for other organocatalytic modes of activation.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-222
Number of pages9
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number2
Early online date16 Feb 2016
StatePublished - 2016