Decarbonylative Cross-Couplings: Nickel Catalyzed Functional Group Interconversion Strategies for the Construction of Complex Organic Molecules

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The utilization of carboxylic acid esters as electrophiles in metal-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions is increasingly popular, as environmentally friendly and readily available ester derivatives can be powerful alternatives to the commonly used organohalides. However, key challenges associated with the use of these chemicals remain to be addressed, including the stability of ester substrates and the high energy barrier associated with their oxidative addition to low-valent metal species. Due to recent developments in nickel catalysis that make it easier to perform oxidative additions, chemists have become interested in applying less reactive electrophiles as coupling counterparts in nickel-catalyzed transformations. Hence, our group and others have independently investigated various ester group substitutions and functionalizations enabled by nickel catalysis. Such methods are of great interest as they enable the exchange of ester groups, which can be used as directing groups in metal-catalyzed C-H functionalizations prior to their replacement. Here, we summarize our recent efforts toward the development of nickel-catalyzed decarbonylative cross-coupling reactions of carboxylic esters. Achievements accomplished by other groups in this area are also included. To this day, a number of new transformations have been successfully developed, including decarbonylative arylations, alkylations, cyanations, silylations, borylations, aminations, thioetherifications, stannylations, and hydrogenolysis reactions. These transformations proceed via a nickel-catalyzed decarbonylative pathway and have shown a high degree of reactivity and chemoselectivity, as well as several other unique advantages in terms of substrate availability, due to the use of esters as coupling partners. Although the mechanisms of these reactions have not yet been fully understood, chemists have already provided some important insights. For example, Yamamoto explored the stoichiometric nickel-mediated decarbonylation process of esters and proposed a reaction mechanism involving a C(acyl)-O bond cleavage and a CO extrusion. Key nickel intermediates were isolated and characterized by Shi and co-workers, supporting the assumption of a nickel/ N-heterocyclic carbene-promoted C(acyl)-O bond activation and functionalization. Our combined experimental and computational study of a ligand-controlled chemoselective nickel-catalyzed cross-coupling of aromatic esters with alkylboron reagents provided further insight into the reaction mechanism. We demonstrated that nickel complexes with bidentate ligands favor the C(aryl)-C bond cleavage in the oxidative addition step, resulting in decarbonylative alkylations, while nickel complexes with monodentate phosphorus ligands promote the activation of the C(acyl)-O bond, leading to the production of ketone products. Although more detailed mechanistic investigations need to be undertaken, the successful development of decarbonylative cross-coupling reactions can serve as a solid foundation for future studies. We believe that this type of decarbonylative cross-coupling reactions will be of significant value, in particularly in combination with the retrosynthetic analysis and synthesis of natural products and biologically active molecules. Thus, the presented ester substitution methods will pave the way for successful applications in the construction of complex frameworks by late-stage modification and functionalization of carboxylic acid derivatives.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1185-1195
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 13 2018


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