Total Syntheses of Hexacyclinol, 5-epi-Hexacyclinol, and Desoxohexacyclinol Unveil an Antimalarial Prodrug Motif



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Retraction: Total Syntheses of Hexacyclinol, 5-epi-Hexacyclinol, and Desoxohexacyclinol Unveil an Antimalarial Prodrug Motif Volume 51, Issue 47, 11661, Article first published online: 14 November 2012

  • A considerable portion of this work was conducted during 1999–2002 at Bionic Bros GmbH, Germany. J.J.L.C. acknowledges the assistance of five technicians.


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All sewn up: A “three-staged stitch” was used to append the A–C rings of desoxohexacyclinol (1), which was further converted into the related compounds hexacyclinol (2) and 5-epi-hexacyclinol (3). Screening of the late-staged intermediates indicated that precursors to 1 retain potent antimalarial activity. The mechanism of this action is suggested to involve a three-step prodrug-like activation.

Hexacyclinol (1) was isolated by Gräfe and co-workers from the basidiospores collected from Panus rudis growing on dead betula woods in Siberia.1 In 1999, our exploration into German fungal cultures provided a strain of P. rudis 99-329 that was not only capable of the biosynthesis of 1 but also provided trace amounts of epi-5-hexacyclinol (2) and desoxohexacyclinol (3).2 Further study indicated that the retrocycloaddition of 1 and 2 released oxygen to afford a mixture of trienes 3 (Scheme 1). Subsequent [2+2+2] cycloaddition of 3 with singlet oxygen returned a mixture of 1 and 2. As this process could be cycled, it offered a key handle in expediting the synthesis of this family of terpenes.

Scheme 1.

Hexacyclinol interconversions: a) in vacuo, neat, 95 %; b) O2, rose bengal, MeOH, , 0 °C, 89 %.

The synthesis of 1 and 2 through 3 simplifies the complexity of the hexacyclinol ring system by removal of the D/E rings (Scheme 1). On the basis of this argument, a campaign to 3 was launched using the synthetic plan outlined in Scheme 2. The plan began with an intact A ring as shown in intermediate A. The first stage of this project sought a rapid appendage of C7 and C17 onto A followed by the installation of the lower half of the B ring as given by the conversion of D into E. From E, a series of three sequences (EF, FG, and GI, Scheme 2) were used to stitch the molecule together, beginning with the insertion of C15–C16, followed by creation of the C17–C18 bond, and ending with installation of the C14–C15 epoxide.

Scheme 2.

Synthetic plan depicting the strategic intermediates AJ. Completed bonds are shown in black, and the skeleton is depicted in gray.

Intermediate A was developed from bis(acetate) 4.3 Protection with TBS, deacetylation, and nosylation of the primary alcohol afforded 5 (Scheme 3). Under these conditions, nosylate 5 was obtained along with a bis(nosylate) derivative (3–5 % yield), which was removed after treatment of the mixture with sodium cyanide in DMSO to convert 5 into 6. This sequence was conducted on a multigram scale to provide 6 after a single chromatographic purification step. The synthesis of 6 completed the installation of C7 as indicated by the conversion of A into B (Scheme 2).

Scheme 3.

Access to intermediate D through the synthesis of 13. a) TBSCl, imidazole, DMAP (cat.), CH2Cl2; b) NH3, MeOH, room temperature; c) NsCl, pyridine, 0 °C→RT; d) NaCN (1.5 equiv), DMSO, 85 °C, 32 h, 72 % from 4; e) methylvinyl ether, Br2; then add to 6, 2,6-lutidine (2 equiv), CH2Cl2, 0 °C→RT, 67 %; f) NaHMDS, THF, −78 °C→RT; g) NaHMDS, THF, −78 °C→−40 °C; then Ph3CO2H, THF, 67 % from 7; h) DIBAL-H, toluene, −78 °C→RT; i) (TMSSCH2)2CH2, ZnBr2, CH2Cl2, 59 % from 8 a; j) HCl in aq. THF; k) slow addition of Ag2O in paraffin, CH2Cl2, room temperature; l) LiOH, aq. THF; m) PPh3, DIAD, CH2Cl2, room temperature, 16 h, 68 % from 10. TBS=tert-butyldimethylsilyl, DMAP=4-dimethylaminopyridine, Ns=4-nitrobenzenesulfonyl, DMSO=dimethyl sulfoxide, HMDS=hexamethyldisilazane, DIBAL-H=diisobutylaluminum hydride, DIAD=diisopropyl azodicarboxylate.

The next stage in this synthesis involved the installation of C17, as given by the conversion of B into C (Scheme 2). This operation was accomplished through the conversion of 6 into bromoacetal 7 by reaction with 1,2-dibromoethylmethyl ether (Scheme 3).4 Treatment of crude 7 with NaHMDS at −78 °C followed by warming to room temperature resulted in 3:2 mixture of 8 a/8 b. Fortunately, protonation of the enolate of 8 a/8 b with triphenylacetic acid afforded a mixture favoring the desired nitrile 8 a by 11:1. To increase the material throughput to 8 a, the cyclization and isomerization steps were conducted in a one-pot operation.

With intermediate C in hand, the next step required correction of the stereochemistry at C13. As provided by 4, this center required inversion as illustrated by the conversion into D (Scheme 2). The process began by convertion of the nitrile of 8 a to dithiane 13 (Scheme 3). Slow addition of DIBAL-H at −20 °C to 8 a at −78 °C in toluene afforded 9 in high yield. The resulting aldehyde 9 was subsequently protected as dithiane 10. The acetal ring of 10 was opened by treatment with dilute aqueous acid to provide 11, which was in turn oxidized to the corresponding acid 12 through a buffered Tollens oxidation followed by hydrolysis of the incipient lactone. As noted by Smith et al.,5 the oxidation of an aldehyde in the presence of a dithiane is a nontrivial operation. For this example, oxidation of 11 to 12 was achieved by delivering Ag2O in wax (5 % Ag2O in paraffin).6 Here, slow addition and transfer of Ag2O to the reaction medium was optimal in favoring aldehyde oxidation. An intramolecular Mitsunobu inversion of 12 to lactone 13 was used to install the correct stereochemistry at C13.

With 13 in hand, the plan called for the simultaneous appendage of C4–C6 and C18–C23 as indicated by the conversion of D into E (Scheme 2). Ketone 18 provided an ideal match for the installation of these atoms as it was rapidly prepared from epoxide 157 (Scheme 4). The process was facilitated through anchimeric-assisted addition of corresponding α-lithioether 16, prepared by the methods of Cohen and Matz,8 to 15 to yield 17. Gram quantities of 18 were obtained after oxidation of 17 with either SO3–pyridine, TPAP—NMO, or Dess–Martin periodinane.

Scheme 4.

Access to intermediate E through the synthesis of 20. a) LDA (1.1 equiv), HMPA (3 equiv), THF; −78 °C then nBuLi (1.1 equiv) at −78 °C→−60 °C, 2 h; b) slow addition of 18 in THF to 14 in THF, −78 °C, 2 h; then −78 °C→RT, 62 % of 19 b and 15 % of 19 a; c) add 16 in Et2O to 15 in Et2O/pentane (8:1 v/v), −78 °C→0 °C, 12 h, 89 %; d) TPAP (cat.), NMO, CH2Cl2, 92 %; e) PhSH, PEt3, DEAD, CH2Cl2, 45 °C, 24 h, 94 %. LDA=lithium diisopropylamide, HMPA=hexamethylphosphoramide, MOM=methoxymethyl, TPAP=tetrapropylammonium perruthenate, NMO=N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide, DEAD=diethyl azodicarboxylate.

Condensation of 13 with 18 was carried out by generation of dianion 14 by the stepwise addition of LDA and nBuLi to 13 (Scheme 4). A chromatographically separable mixture of 19 a and 19 b (1:4.5) was obtained after slow addition of 18 to 14 at −78 °C followed by gradual warming to room temperature. Separation of these diastereomers was enhanced by the selective inversion of 19 b to mercaptan 20. Under these conditions, the inversion of 19 a was not observed. The fact that 19 a was returned after treatment with DEAD, PBu3, and acetic acid suggested that the C6-carbinol was too hindered to form the required alkoxyphosphonium intermediate. Completion of 20 involved the installation of C4–C6 and C18–C23 with the appropriate stereochemistry at C6 and provided functional handles at C17 and C18 for fusion of the B and C rings.

The synthesis continued by a three-stage stitching sequence as depicted by the processing of E to H (Scheme 2). The operation began with the installation of C15–C16 bond as given by the conversion of E into F. Experimentally, this was conducted by C-acylation of 20 with pyruvonitrile (Scheme 5).9 Oxidation of the resulting product 21 with mCPBA followed by treatment with a catalytic amount of CSA in methanol afforded ketosulfoxide 22. Treatment of 22 with aqueous acid opened the MOM-protected acetal. Analysis of the mixture by NMR spectroscopy indicated that the resulting material existed in a complex equilibrium that contained residues attributable to 23 a and 23 b.

Scheme 5.

Access to intermediate G through the synthesis of 27. a) LDA (1.1 equiv), THF; −78 °C→−50 °C; then CH3COCN, −78 °C; then −78 °C→0 °C,12 h, 92 %; b) mCPBA (3.0 equiv), CH2Cl2; c) CSA (0.2 equiv), room temperature, wet tBuOMe, 6 h, 94 % from 21; d) TMSCl (1.2 equiv), H2O (5.0 equiv), CH2Cl2, 0 °C, 97 %; e) add MsCl (1 equiv) and Et3N (1 equiv) in CH2Cl2 once an hour for 5 h at −10 °C; −10 °C→RT, 16 h, 76 %; f) PhSNa (0.2 equiv), MeOH; g) TESOTf, 2,6-lutidine, CH2Cl2, −20 °C→RT, 82 % from 25; h) 60–70 °C, DMF, 16 h, 92 %. mCPBA=meta-chloroperbenzoic acid, CSA=camphorsulfonic acid, TMS=trimethylsilyl, Ms=methanesulfonyl, TESOTf=triethylsilyl triflate, DMF=N,N-dimethylformamide.

Treatment of this mixture 23 a,b with sulfene (MsCl, Et3N) led to the formation of a single product 25 (Scheme 5), apparently through incipient generation of mesylate 24 a or chloride 24 b. The reversible nature of mesylation with sulfene was key to this process.10 After screening conditions, an optimized 74–77 % yield of 25 was obtained after adding an equivalent of MsCl and triethylamine once an hour for 5 h. Access to 25 completed the installation of the C17–C18 bond as shown by the conversion of intermediate F into G (Scheme 2). The final stitch (G to H) called for the creation of the C14–C15 bond. This process began with methanolysis of the lactone in 25 by treatment with sodium thiophenoxide in methanol followed by protection of the secondary alcohol to afford 26 (Scheme 5). Thermolysis of 26 induced a regioselective syn-elimination to provide 27. At this stage, the appropriate functionality was installed to address the formation of the C14–C15 epoxide.

A Julia–Kocienski reaction was selected for this process as the projected enone 30 was envisioned as a suitable precursor to the C14–C15 epoxide (Scheme 6). Sulfone 28 was prepared by α-thiolation of 27 with 2,2′-dithiobis(benzothiazole) followed by oxidation with oxone. Selective deprotection of the primary TBS-protected ether followed by oxidation with Dess–Martin periodinane provided the precursor to the Julia–Kocienski reaction 29. Slow addition of DBU with a catalytic amount of DMAP to 29 in THF over 2 h at −40 °C followed by warming to room temperature over 10 h afforded the desired enone 30 in good yield. Epoxidation at C14–C15, as required by H to I (Scheme 2), was effected by using the tartrate-mediated nucleophilic epoxidation conditions developed by Porco and co-workers to yield a single epoxide 31.11

Scheme 6.

Synthesis of desoxohexacyclinol (3). a) KHMDS (1.1 equiv), THF; −78 to −50 °C; then (BtS)2, −78 °C; −78 °C→0 °C, 12 h; b) oxone, wet 1,4-dioxane, 87 % from 27; c) TBAF, wet THF, 0 °C→RT; d) Dess–Martin periodinane, CH2Cl2, 0 °C→RT; e) slow addition of DBU (1.2 equiv), DMAP (cat.), THF, −40 °C→RT, 10 h, 72 % from 28; f) Ph3COOH, L-(+)-diisopropyltartrate, toluene, CH2Cl2 (3:1 v/v), 92 %; g) KOTMS, THF, −10 °C→35 °C, 5 h, 69 %; h) MnO2, CH2Cl2, room temperature; i) 34, KHMDS, −78 °C; −78 °C→−30 °C, 2 h; add 33 at −78 °C; −78 °C→RT, 3 h; then room temperature, 12 h, 76 % from 32; j) cat. aq. H2SiF6, CH3CN/tBuOH (9:1 v/v), room temperature, 78 % for 3 a; 81 % for 36; 72 % for 37; 84 % for 38; k) O2, rose bengal, MeOH, , 0 °C, 82 %. Bt=1-benzothiazole, TBAF=tetra-n-butylammonium fluoride, DBU=1,8-diazabicyclo[5.4.0]undec-7-ene.

The synthesis of desoxohexacyclinol (3) was accomplished by unveiling the 7-oxabicyclo[2.2.1]heptane and thereby completing the synthesis of the C ring (I to J, Scheme 2). Hydrolysis of 31 with TMSOK12 or nBu3SnOH13 generated the corresponding acid, which underwent subsequent β-eliminative ring opening to provide 32 (Scheme 6). Hydrolysis of the C14–C15 epoxide was avoided by slow addition of TMSOK or nBu3SnOH. At this point, the final carbon atoms C1–C3 were installed through a second Julia–Kocienski reaction (Scheme 6). Allylic oxidation with MnO2 was effective at converting 32 into aldehyde 33, which was in turn filtered through dry silica gel and immediately treated with the anion of 34 to afford 35. Remarkably, this addition was achieved with less than 5 % addition to the C14–C15 epoxide. Mild deprotection with fluorosilicic acid14 completed the synthesis to provide 3 a in an overall yield of 0.8–1.3 % from 4. Confirmation of this yield was established by the most-recent campaign that provided 3.6 g of 3 a from 1 mol of 4.

Exposure of 3 a to singlet oxygen15 resulted in a [2+2+2] cycloaddition16 that afforded a mixture of chromatographically separable 1 and 2 (8:1). Samples of synthetic hexacyclinol (1),172,18 and 319 were identical in Rf, HPLC retention, physical properties, and spectral data to authentic samples of 13 isolated in our laboratories.2 The optical rotation of synthetic 1 ([α]D(4.0 mg mL−1)=+131.5°) was comparable to that obtained in samples of isolated 1 ([α]D(4.0 mg mL−1)=+132.2°) as well as that reported by Gräfe and co-workers ([α]D(4.03 mg mL−1)=+130.5°),1 thereby confirming the absolute stereochemistry of hexacyclinol (1).

While the yield and complexity of this synthesis may not be ideal for therapeutic use, the value of this synthetic route became apparent upon screening the activity of the late-stage intermediates. Intermediates 3638, prepared by deprotection of the precursors 3032, respectively, were analyzed for their inhibition of Plasmodium berghei.2 Remarkably, 36, 37, and 38 displayed IC50 values of 9.3±2.6, 6.1±1.5, and 2.1±0.7 nM, respectively, against a chloroquine-sensitive P. berghei. In the same assay, artemisinin displayed an IC50 value of 2.5±0.9 nM.2, 20 Comparable activity was also obtained in in vivo antimalarial assays, which indicated that 36, 37, and 38 displayed ED50 values of 8.9, 1.6, and 5.2 mg kg−1, respectively, against chloroquine-sensitive P. berghei. This activity was found to be comparable to sodium artesunate, which delivered an ED50 value of 4.3 mg kg−1 when examined in parallel.2, 21 While the mode of action of these materials has yet to be verified,2 prior observations on 3 suggest that these materials arise through a three-step prodrug-like motif (Scheme 7). Efforts are now underway to determine the validity of this mechanism as well as to identify a minimal pharmacophore.22

Scheme 7.

Suggested mechanism supporting the in vivo activity of 37. a) Hydrolysis; b) decarboxylative β-elimination; c) [2+2+2] cycloaddition with singlet oxygen.

In memory of Udo Gräfe