Nickel-Catalyzed Radical Mechanisms: Informing Cross-Coupling for Synthesizing Non-Canonical Biomolecules

Gregory A. Dawson, Ethan H. Spielvogel, Tianning Diao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conspectus Nickel excels at facilitating selective radical chemistry, playing a pivotal role in metalloenzyme catalysis and modern cross-coupling reactions. Radicals, being nonpolar and neutral, exhibit orthogonal reactivity to nucleophilic and basic functional groups commonly present in biomolecules. Harnessing this compatibility, we delve into the application of nickel-catalyzed radical pathways in the synthesis of noncanonical peptides and carbohydrates, critical for chemical biology studies and drug discovery. We previously characterized a sequential reduction mechanism that accounts for chemoselectivity in cross-electrophile coupling reactions. This catalytic cycle begins with nickel(I)-mediated radical generation from alkyl halides, followed by carbon radical capture by nickel(II) complexes, and concludes with reductive elimination. These steps resonate with mechanistic proposals in nickel-catalyzed cross-coupling, photoredox, and electrocatalytic reactions. Herein, we present our insights into each step involving radicals, including initiation, propagation, termination, and the nuances of kinetics, origins of selectivity, and ligand effects. Radical generation from C(sp3) electrophiles via one-electron oxidative addition with low-valent nickel radical intermediates provides the basis for stereoconvergent and cross-electrophile couplings. Our electroanalytical studies elucidate a concerted halogen atom abstraction mechanism, where electron transfer is coupled with halide dissociation. Using this pathway, we have developed a nickel-catalyzed stereoselective radical addition to dehydroalanine, facilitating the synthesis of noncanonical peptides. In this application, chiral ligands modulate the stereochemical outcome through the asymmetric protonation of a nickel-enolate intermediate. The capture of the alkyl radical by nickel(II) expands the scope of cross-coupling, promotes reductive elimination through the formation of high-valent nickel(III) species, and governs chemo- and stereoselectivity. We discovered that nickel(II)-aryl efficiently traps radicals with a barrier ranging from 7 to 9 kcal/mol, followed by fast reductive elimination. In contrast, nickel(II)-alkyl captures radicals to form a nickel(III) species, which was characterized by EPR spectroscopy. However, the subsequent slow reductive elimination resulted in minimal product formation. The observed high diastereoselectivity of radical capture inspired investigations into C-aryl and C-acyl glycosylation reactions. We developed a redox auxiliary that readily couples with natural carbohydrates and produces glycosyl radicals upon photoredox activation. Nickel-catalyzed cross-coupling of the glycosyl radical with bromoarenes and carboxylic acids leads to diverse non-natural glycosides that can facilitate drug discovery. Stoichiometric studies on well-defined d8-nickel complexes have showcased means to promote reductive elimination, including ligand association, oxidation, and oxidative addition. In the final section, we address the influence of auxiliary ligands on the electronic structure and redox activity of organonickel intermediates. Synthesis of a series of low-valent nickel radical complexes and characterization of their electronic structures led us to a postulate that ligand redox activity correlates with coordination geometry. Our data reveal that a change in ligand redox activity can shift the redox potentials of reaction intermediates, potentially altering the mechanism of catalytic reactions. Moreover, coordinating additives and solvents may stabilize nickel radicals during catalysis by adjusting ligand redox activity, which is consistent with known catalytic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3640-3653
Number of pages14
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 19 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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