Catalytic Enantioselective Diels–Alder Reactions: Methods, Mechanistic Fundamentals, Pathways, and Applications



One hundred years after the birth of Kurt Alder and seventy-five years after the discovery of his famous reaction, one of the most important and fascinating transformations in chemistry, research on that process continues to surprise, excite, delight, and inform the chemical community. This article is based on presentations given first at the University of Cologne, Germany (Kurt Alder lecture, 1992), then at the Roger Adams Award Symposium (1993), and later at the Bürgenstock Conference of 2001, and describes research by our group on the development and understanding of enantioselective versions of the Diels–Alder reactions. The elements of this review include 1) development of new chiral Lewis acid catalysts for highly enantioselective (>25:1) [4+2] cycloadditions; 2) the fine mechanistic details and pre-transition-state assemblies of these reactions; 3) the fundamental understanding of catalytic activity and enantioselectivity for highly enantioselective Diels–Alder processes; and 4) applications to the synthesis of complex molecules. The range and power of the Diels–Alder reaction have steadily increased over seven decades. The end of this remarkable development is not in sight, a high compliment to this field of Science and to its great inventor.