A catalytic fluoride-rebound mechanism for C(sp3)-CF3 bond formation

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Science  23 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6344, pp. 1272-1276
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan1411

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Trifluoromethylation via broken C-F bonds

Trifluoromethyl substituents are widely used in pharmaceutical research to tune the properties of drug candidates. Generally, they are introduced intact through the formation of carbon-carbon bonds. Levin et al. discovered an unusual alternative mechanism, in which borane abstracts fluoride from the CF3 group in a gold complex. The activated CF2 fragment can then bond to a wide variety of other carbon substituents added to the same gold center. Return of the fluoride liberates a trifluoromethylated compound from the metal. This mechanism could be useful for the introduction of radioactive fluoride substituents for positron emission tomography applications.

Science, this issue p. 1272


The biological properties of trifluoromethyl compounds have led to their ubiquity in pharmaceuticals, yet their chemical properties have made their preparation a substantial challenge, necessitating innovative chemical solutions. We report the serendipitous discovery of a borane-catalyzed formal C(sp3)-CF3 reductive elimination from Au(III) that accesses these compounds by a distinct mechanism proceeding via fluoride abstraction, migratory insertion, and C-F reductive elimination to achieve a net C-C bond construction. The parent bis(trifluoromethyl)Au(III) complexes tolerate a surprising breadth of synthetic protocols, enabling the synthesis of complex organic derivatives without cleavage of the Au-C bond. This feature, combined with the “fluoride-rebound” mechanism, was translated into a protocol for the synthesis of 18F-radiolabeled aliphatic CF3-containing compounds, enabling the preparation of potential tracers for use in positron emission tomography.

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