Constrained sialic acid donors enable selective synthesis of α-glycosides

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Science  17 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6441, pp. 677-680
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw4866

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Sweet spot for making oligosaccharides

Sugars pose a challenge for chemists: how to string together functional group–rich building blocks that can adopt multiple conformations. Two papers in this issue used sugar building blocks constrained by a macrocyclic linker to encourage formation of a specific glycosidic linkage (see the Perspective by Pohl). Ikuta et al. used glucose building blocks containing a linker that changes the sugar conformation to synthesize cyclic oligomers with only three or four units. The linker changes the conformation of the glucose monomers, enabling them to come together despite the strain in the final structure. Komura et al. prepared sialic acid building blocks with a linker that allows for selective formation of the α-anomeric linkage with a range of nucleophiles. They synthesized dimers of sialic acid with many different linkages and a pentamer with four α(2,8) linkages. This method enabled chemical synthesis of components of mammalian glycans involved in brain development, cell adhesion, and immune response.

Science, this issue p. 674, p. 677; see also p. 631


Sialic acid is a sugar residue present in many biologically significant glycans of mammals, commonly as a terminal α-glycoside. The chemical structure of sialic acid, which features an anomeric center with carboxyl and methylene substituents, poses a challenge for synthesis of the α-glycoside, thus impeding biological and therapeutic studies on sialic acid–containing glycans. We present a robust method for the selective α-glycosidation of sialic acid using macrobicyclized sialic acid donors as synthetic equivalents of structurally constrained oxocarbenium ions to impart stereoselectivity. We demonstrate the power of our method by showcasing broad substrate scope and applicability in the preparation of diverse sialic acid–containing architectures.

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