Chinese Chemical Letters  2020, Vol. 31 Issue (5): 1297-1300   PDF    
Bismuth trichloride-catalyzed oxy-Michael addition of water and alcohol to α, β-unsaturated ketones
Zhen Wua,b, Xue-Xin Fenga,b, Qing-Dong Wangb, Jin-Jin Yuna, Weidong Raoc, Jin-Ming Yanga,b,*, Zhi-Liang Shena,*     
a School of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Nanjing Tech University, Nanjing 211816, China;
b School of Pharmacy, Yancheng Teachers University, Yancheng 224007, China;
c Jiangsu Key Laboratory of Biomass-based Green Fuels and Chemicals, College of Chemical Engineering, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing 210037, China
Abstract: An efficient method was developed for the conjugate addition of water to various α, β-unsaturated ketones by using bismuth(Ⅲ) chloride as a catalyst. The reactions proceeded smoothly in the presence of a catalytic amount of BiCl3 (20 mol%) in aqueous media to furnish a variety of synthetically useful β-hydroxyl ketones in moderate to good yields. Apart from water molecule, various alcohols could also be employed as nucleophiles to react with α, β-unsaturated ketones, leading to β-alkoxyl ketones in modest to high yields. In addition, the mild reaction conditions also entailed the conjugate addition reactions to proceed with the tolerance to a range of functional groups.
Keywords: Bismuth trichloride    Water    β-Hydroxyl carbonyl compound    Michael addition    Functional group tolerance    

β-Hydroxyl carbonyl compounds, which are structural motif widely found in numerous natural products, play an important role in organic chemistry as versatile synthetic intermediates [1, 2]. Besides the well-known Aldol reaction between aldehyde and ketone which serves as a practical method for the synthesis of β-hydroxyl carbonyl compounds [2], β-hydroxyl carbonyl compounds could also be constructed by a two-step reaction sequence [3]. However, these methods suffered either from the production of undesired products due to the relatively strong basic reaction conditions or from the comparatively low efficiency of multi-step synthesis. In this context, the direct addition of water to α, β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds, a commonly occurred reaction which widely exists in living organism, provides an easy and direct entry to β-hydroxyl carbonyl compounds via a Michaeltype reaction pathway, along with the inhibition of undesired side reactions. However, the reaction of water with α, β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds constitutes a big challenge because the reaction is an equilibrium and the formed β-hydroxyl carbonyl compound has a strong tendency to undergo β-hydroxyl elimination to regenerate the original substrate of more stable α, β-unsaturated carbonyl compound [4]. It was not until 2003 that Bergman and Toste had reported an efficient phosphine-catalyzed reaction of alcohol/water with α, β-unsaturated carbonyl compound by means of in situ forming a strong base as reaction catalyst [5]. However, only one case using water as a reaction nucleophile was reported in their protocol. Thereafter, Feringa and Roelfes reported an enantioselective Michael-type reaction of water with specific α, β-unsaturated 2-acyl imidazole/pyridine by employing DNA-supported copper catalyst or artificial metalloenzymes as reaction promoter [6]. More recent studies from the Hanefeld group have revealed that amino acid or enzyme is also able to catalyze the oxy-Michael reaction of water with cyclic enones or lactones with moderate success (mostly in low to modest yields), further implying the difficulty of realizing the transformation [7, 8]. Very recently, our group described that a catalytic amount of In (OTf)3 or CrCl3 are capable of catalyzing the reaction between water and α, β-unsaturated ketones in aqueous media, providing an effective method for the synthesis of β-hydroxyl ketones [9].

In recent decades, bismuth(Ⅲ) salts have been demonstrated to be efficient catalysts for effecting various organic transformations due to their powerful Lewis acidity [10]. As a continued task of our group to develop organic reactions in aqueous media [11-13], herein we report an efficient method for the synthesis of β-hydroxyl carbonyl compounds via a bismuth(Ⅲ)-catalyzed direct addition of water to α, β-unsaturated carbonyl compound. The reactions proceeded smoothly in aqueous media to furnish a variety of synthetically useful β-hydroxyl ketones in moderate to good yields, along with the tolerance to a range of functional groups. Aside from water, alcohols could also be employed as nucleophiles to react with a wide range of α, β-unsaturated ketones, leading to β-alkoxyl ketones in modest to high yields.

In the beginning, an array of bismuth(Ⅲ) salts were employed to investigate their catalytic activity in the Michael-type reaction of 1-phenylprop-2-en-1-one (1a) with water. The reactions were carried out at 80 ℃ for 24 h in aqueous acetonitrile in the presence of 20 mol% bismuth(Ⅲ) salts. As shown in Table 1, among the various bismuth(Ⅲ) salts surveyed (entries 1–9), BiCl3 exhibited the best catalytic performance to afford the corresponding product 2a in 72% yield (entry 1). In contrast, the use of bismuth(Ⅲ) salts containing other anions led to decreased product yields (entries 2–9). Further studies of other reaction parameters, including reaction temperature and reaction time (entries 10–14), showed that the reaction worked with best performance when it was performed at 80 ℃ for 24 h by employing BiCl3 as reaction catalyst.

Table 1
Optimization of reaction conditions.a

Subsequently, the substrate scope of the reaction was surveyed by using a variety of structurally diverse α, β-unsaturated ketones as starting materials. As summarized in Table 2, different types of electron-deficient alkenes were applicable to the present conjugate addition, affording the corresponding products in modest to good yields. Not only aryl enones containing electron-withdrawing groups (including CN, COOMe, F, Cl, and Br) in the benzene ring, but also aryl enones containing electron-donating substituents (including Me, OMe, and OCH2O) in the benzene ring were capable of efficiently participating in the 1, 4-addition reaction to furnish the expected product 2b-k in 34%-84% yields (entries 1-10). In addition to aryl substituted enones, enones 1l-n possessing heteroaryl substituents were amenable to the mild reaction conditions, giving rise to the anticipated products 2l-n in moderate to good yields (46%-89% yields, entries 11-13). Moreover, alkyl substituted enones 1o-p reacted in the same manner to afford the desired β-hydroxyl carbonyl compounds 2o-p in acceptable yields (42%-54% yields, entries 14 and 15). When (E)-1-phenylbut-2-en-1-one (1q) containing a methyl group at its β position was used as substrate, the addition reaction proceeded with reduced efficiency to give the product 2q in 40% yield (entry 16), presumably due to steric hindrance. In sharp contrast, no reaction occurred when enone 1r bearing a methyl group at its α position was utilized as reactant (entry 17).

Table 2
Substrate scope study by using various enones.a

Next, the substrate scope of the reaction was further surveyed by using various alcohols as nucleophiles [14]. As shown in Table 3, the conjugate addition involving enone 1h and various alcohols 3 proceeded smoothly to give the corresponding products 4a-l in moderate to good yields. Besides alkyl alcohols (entries 1-6), allylic alcohol (entry 7), propargylic alcohol (entry 8), and benzyl alcohols (entries 9 and 10) were also demonstrated to be efficient substrates for the transformation, leading to the anticipated products 4g-j in moderate to good yields. In addition to primary alcohols, secondary alcohols (entries 2 and 11) also efficiently participated in the addition reactions to produce the products 4b and 4k in moderate yields. In the same fashion, chiral alcohol of menthol could also be smoothly converted into the corresponding β-alkoxyl ketone 4l in an acceptable yield (entry 12). However, when relatively acidic phenol was employed as a nucleophile to react with enone 1h under the optimized reaction conditions, only a trace amount of the desired product could be detected, probably owing to the poorer nucleophilicity of phenol when compared to aliphatic alcohols. It is worth mentioning that the mild reaction conditions entailed the presence of various important functional groups or substituents embedded in the starting materials, including chloro, cyano, ethoxycarbonyl, C = C, and C≡C.

Table 3
Substrate scope study by using various alcohols.a

Besides linear enones, cyclic enones could also be employed as substrates. As listed in Table 4, six-membered enone 1s reacted with ethanol with usual poor performance, leading to the desired product 4m only in 15% yield (entry 1). In sharp contrast, the reactions involving seven-membered enone 1t and some typical alcohols 3 proceeded with enhanced efficiency to give the target products 4n-q in moderate to high yields (entries 2-5). However, the reaction of cyclopentenone with ethanol could not afford the desired product, presumably because of the instability of the in situ formed β-hydroxyl ketone which has the strong tendency to undergo β-elimination.

Table 4
Substrate scope study by using cyclic enones and various alcohols.a

In a nutshell, an efficient method for achieving the conjugate addition of water with various α, β-unsaturated ketones was developed. The reactions proceeded smoothly in the presence of a catalytic amount of BiCl3 (20 mol%) in aqueous media to furnish a variety of synthetically useful β-hydroxyl ketones in moderate to good yields. Apart from water, various alcohols could also be employed as nucleophiles to react with a wide range of α, β-unsaturated ketones, leading to β-alkoxyl ketones in modest to high yields. In addition, the mild reaction conditions also allowed the conjugate addition reactions to proceed with the tolerance to a range of functional groups.


We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from Nanjing Tech University (Start-up Grant No. 39837118), Yancheng Teachers University, and Nanjing Forestry University.

Appendix A. Supplementary data

Supplementary material related to this article canbefound, in the online version, at doi:

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