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Dual Electrocatalysis Enables Enantioselective Hydrocyanation Of Conjugated Alkenes

L. Song, Niankai Fu, Brian G. Ernst, Wai Hang Lee, M. Frederick, R. Distasio, Song Lin
Published 2020 · Medicine

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Chiral nitriles and their derivatives are prevalent in pharmaceuticals and bioactive compounds. Enantioselective alkene hydrocyanation represents a convenient and efficient approach for synthesizing these molecules. However, a generally applicable method featuring a broad substrate scope and high functional group tolerance remains elusive. Here, we address this long-standing synthetic problem using dual electrocatalysis. Using this strategy, we leverage electrochemistry to seamlessly combine two canonical radical reactions—cobalt-mediated hydrogen-atom transfer and copper-promoted radical cyanation—to accomplish highly enantioselective hydrocyanation without the need for stoichiometric oxidants. We also harness electrochemistry’s unique feature of precise potential control to optimize the chemoselectivity of challenging substrates. Computational analysis uncovers the origin of enantio-induction, for which the chiral catalyst imparts a combination of attractive and repulsive non-covalent interactions to direct the enantio-determining C–CN bond formation. This work demonstrates the power of electrochemistry in accessing new chemical space and providing solutions to pertinent challenges in synthetic chemistry. A general method for the enantioselective hydrocyanation of alkenes has been a long-standing synthetic challenge. Now, using a dual electrocatalytic approach that combines two synergistic redox catalytic cycles, a wide variety of chiral nitriles can be synthesized from conjugated alkenes in high enantioselectivity.
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