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C-H Activation

Directing group lets chemists reach remote C–H bonds

New reaction activates γ-C–H bonds over the conventionally favored β-C–H bonds

by Tien Nguyen
April 20, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 16


Reaction scheme of a C–H activation reaction.
With the help of directing groups, a new C–H activation method selectively installs aryl groups at the distal carbon atom instead of the conventional neighboring carbon atom.

Because of their ubiquity in organic compounds, C–H bonds have long tantalized chemists as synthetic handles. But these bonds are both relatively inert and virtually indistinguishable to reagents, synthetic challenges that have spawned an entire field of research known as C–H activation. One such strategy in this area, known since the 1970s, is to treat a heteroatom-containing molecule with a palladium catalyst, which hooks onto the heteroatom and the neighboring carbon atom to form a thermodynamically favored five-membered palladacycle. But this approach activates only C–H bonds in the β position, the second carbon away from the heteroatom. Now, researchers led by Jin-Quan Yu at Scripps Research have extended the reaction’s reach by one carbon (Nat. Chem. 2019, DOI: 10.1038/s41557-019-0245-6). Because C–H bonds defy the typical tools for controlling selectivity via metal insertion, such as tweaking a catalyst’s electronics or sterics, Yu says, the team turned to ring strain. They proposed that capping alcohol-containing substrates with an imine or pyridone directing group would favor the less-strained 6,5 bicyclic palladacycle over the 5,5 bicyclic intermediates. Using its directing group method, the team preferentially plucked off γ-C–H bonds to install a variety of aryl molecules (example shown). Directing groups were removed by standard hydrogenation or reduction. Now the researchers have their sights set on the seven-membered palladacycle.


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