Accounts of chemical research | 26 Mar 2020
S Xie, M Sundhoro, KN Houk and M Yan
ConspectusOrganic azides are involved in a variety of useful transformations, including nitrene chemistry, reactions with nucleophiles and electrophiles, and cycloadditions. The 1,3-dipolar cycloadditions of azides constitute a major class of highly reliable and versatile reactions, as shown by the development and rapid adoption of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry. Metal-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition (Cu/RuAAC), the prototypical click reaction, has found wide utility in pharmaceutical, biomedical, and materials sciences. The strain-promoted, or distortion-accelerated, azide-alkyne cycloaddition eliminates the need for a metal catalyst.In the azide-mediated 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition reactions, azides are ambiphilic, i.e., HOMO-LUMO-controlled dipoles where both the HOMO and LUMO interact strongly with the dipolarophile. Azide-alkyne cycloaddition proceeds primarily through the HOMOazide-LUMOdipolarophile interaction, and electron-deficient dipolarophiles react more readily. The inverse-electron-demand reaction, involving the LUMOazide-HOMOdipolarophile interaction, is less common because of the low stability of electron-deficient azides such as acyl, sulfonyl, and phosphoryl azides. Nevertheless, there have been reports since the 1960s showing enhanced reaction kinetics between electron-poor azides and electron-rich dipolarophiles. Our laboratory has developed the use of perfluoroaryl azides (PFAAs), a class of stable electron-deficient azides, as nitrene precursors and for reactions with nucleophiles and electron-rich dipolarophiles. Perfluorination on the aryl ring also facilitates the synthesis of PFAAs and quantitative analysis of the products by 19F NMR spectroscopy.In this Account, we summarize key reactions involving electrophilic azides and applications of these reactions in materials synthesis and chemical biology. These electron-deficient azides exhibit unique reactivity toward nucleophiles and electron-rich or strained dipolarophiles, in some cases leading to new transformations that do not require any catalysts or products that are impossible to obtain from the nonelectrophilic azides. We highlight work from our laboratories on reactions of PFAAs with enamines, enolates, thioacids, and phosphines. In the reactions of PFAAs with enamines or enolates, the triazole or triazoline cycloaddition products undergo further rearrangement to give amidines or amides as the final products at rates of up to 105 times faster than their non-fluorinated anlogues. Computational investigations by the distortion/interaction activation strain model reveal that perfluorination lowers the LUMO of the aryl azide as well as the overall activation energy of the reaction by decreasing the distortion energies of the reactants to reach the transition states. The PFAA-enamine reaction can be carried out in a one-pot fashion using readily available starting materials of aldehyde and amine, making the reaction especially attractive, for example, in the functionalization of nanomaterials and derivatization of antibiotics for the preparation of theranostic nanodrugs. Similar fast kinetics was also observed for the PPAA-mediated Staudinger reaction, which proceeds at 104 times higher rate than the classic Staudinger ligation, giving stable phosphoimines in high yields. The reaction is biorthogonal, allowing cell-surface labeling with minimal background noise.
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