There is no need to argue the relevance of the study of the halogenation reactions. Alkyl halides are common and useful intermediates in organic synthesis and there are thousands of halogenated natural products with potential biological activity. But curiously and despite the chlorination of olefins is a well-known text book reaction, a general enantioselective variant is yet to be discovered. A great contribution to this challenge was the enantioselective olefin dichlorination developed by Snyder and co-workers in their total synthesis of napyradiomycin A1. The reaction requires the use of a stoichiometric chiral borane auxiliary that forms an in-situ complex with the substrate. According to the authors the enantioselectivity of the process can be due to an organizational π-stacking interaction with the substrate favouring the formation of a chloronium ion at the bottom face of the molecule. The chlorinated olefin is obtained with 87% e.e. (95% e.e. only after recrystallization) and that is a tremendous success due to the difficulty of the reaction.


If you think that an enantioselective chlorination reaction promoted by a stoichiometric reagent is hard, try to make it catalytic. That can be just madness:

-It is strictly necessary to minimise the background reaction, chlorinating reagents can add to olefins with no need of a catalyst.

-Even in the case you are able to form enantioselectively the corresponding chloronium intermediate, complete loss of enantioselectivity can occur due to:

a) Chloronium transfer to a free olefin or

b) Non-regioselective nucleophilic opening by a chloride.


The catalytic reaction challenge was admirably accepted by Nicolau and co-workers. Aryl-substituted allylic alcohols were wisely selected as model substrates in an attempt to overcome the difficulties of the reaction. The reaction is expected to occur via benzylic chloronium species that favour a regiocontrolled chloride attack and the hydroxyl group can serve as an anchor to the catalyst via hydrogen bonding rigidifying the system and providing stereocontrol. The reaction is also performed at low temperatures to slow down the background reaction. The best system to promote the catalytic dichlorination reaction was a combination of the cinchona alkaloid derivative (DHQ) 2PHAL (commonly used as a ligand in Sharplesasymmetric hydroxylation) with p-Ph(C6H4)ICl2 as chlorine source. Although the enantioselectivities obtained were moderate and controlled by substrate design, the work of Nicolaus group meant a great contribution to the field and there is (Im completely sure) much more to come in the future.


Do you want to know more? Take a look to these papers:

-Scott A. Snyder, Zhen-Yu Tang and Ritu Gupta. Enantioselective Total Synthesis of (−)-Napyradiomycin A1 via Asymmetric Chlorination of an Isolated Olefin. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2009, 131, 5744–5745.

-K.C. Nicolaou, Nicholas L. Simmons,Yongcheng Ying, Philipp M. Heretsch, and Jason S. Chen. Enantioselective Dichlorination of Allylic Alcohols. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2011, 133, 8134–8137.

-Mattia R. Monaco and Marco Bella. A Formidable Challenge: Catalytic Asymmetric Dichlorination. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2011, 50, 2–5.