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Asymmetric catalytic azidation has increased in importance to access enantioenriched nitrogen containing molecules, but methods that employ inexpensive sodium azide remain scarce. This encouraged us to undertake a detailed study on the application of hydrogen bonding phase-transfer catalysis (HB-PTC) to enantioselective azidation with sodium azide. So far, this phase-transfer manifold has been applied exclusively to insoluble metal alkali fluorides for carbon-fluorine bond formation. Herein, we disclose the asymmetric ring opening of meso aziridinium electrophiles derived from β-chloroamines with sodium azide in the presence of a chiral bisurea catalyst. The structure of novel hydrogen bonded azide complexes was analyzed computationally, in the solid state by X-ray diffraction, and in solution phase by 1H and 14N/15N NMR spectroscopy. With N-isopropylated BINAM-derived bisurea, end-on binding of azide in a tripodal fashion to all three NH bonds is energetically favorable, an arrangement reminiscent of the corresponding dynamically more rigid trifurcated hydrogen-bonded fluoride complex. Computational analysis informs that the most stable transition state leading to the major enantiomer displays attack from the hydrogen-bonded end of the azide anion. All three H-bonds are retained in the transition state; however, as seen in asymmetric HB-PTC fluorination, the H-bond between the nucleophile and the monodentate urea lengthens most noticeably along the reaction coordinate. Kinetic studies corroborate with the turnover rate limiting event resulting in a chiral ion pair containing an aziridinium cation and a catalyst-bound azide anion, along with catalyst inhibition incurred by accumulation of NaCl. This study demonstrates that HB-PTC can serve as an activation mode for inorganic salts other than metal alkali fluorides for applications in asymmetric synthesis.

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Journal article


J Am Chem Soc

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