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1,3-Dipolar cycloaddition

Lianyungang Klinechem Co.,Ltd | Updated: Nov 22, 2018

Mechanistic overview

Originally two proposed mechanisms describe the 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition: first, the concerted pericyclic cycloaddition mechanism, proposed by Rolf Huisgen; and second, the stepwise mechanism involving a diradical intermediate, proposed by Firestone. After much debate, the former proposal is now generally accepted—the 1,3-dipole reacts with the dipolarophile in a concerted, often asynchronous, and symmetry-allowed π4s + π2s fashion through a thermal six-electron Huckel aromatic transition state. Although, few examples exist of stepwise mechanism of the catalyst free 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition reactions for thiocarbonyl ylides, and nitrile oxides

Pericyclic mechanism

Huisgen investigated a series of cycloadditions between the 1,3-dipolar diazo compounds and various dipolarophilic alkenes.[2] The following observations support the concerted pericyclic mechanism, and refute the stepwise diradical or the stepwise polar pathway.

Substituent effects: Different substituents on the dipole do not exhibit a large effect on the cycloaddition rate, suggesting that the reaction does not involve a charge-separated intermediate.

Solvent effects: Solvent polarity has little effect on the cycloaddition rate, in line with the pericyclic mechanism where polarity does not change much in going from the reactants to the transition state.

Stereochemistry: 1,3-dipolar cycloadditions are always stereospecific with respect to the dipolarophile (i.e., cis-alkenes giving syn-products), supporting the concerted pericyclic mechanism in which two sigma bonds are formed simultaneously.

Thermodynamic parameters: 1,3-dipolar cycloadditions have an unusually large negative entropy of activation similar to that of the Diels-Alder reaction, suggesting that the transition state is highly ordered, which is a signature of concerted pericyclic reactions.




Structure and nomenclature of all second-row 1,3-dipoles consisting of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen centers. The dipoles are categorized as allyl-type or propargyl/allenyl-type based on the geometry of the central atom.

A 1,3-dipole is an organic molecule that can be represented as either an allyl-type or a propargyl/allenyl-type zwitterionic octet/sextet structures. Both types of 1,3-dipoles share four electrons in the π-system over three atoms. The allyl-type is bent whereas the propargyl/allenyl-type is linear in geometry. 1,3-Dipoles containing higher-row elements such as sulfur or phosphorus are also known, but are utilized less routinely.

Resonance structures can be drawn to delocalize both negative and positive charges onto any terminus of a 1,3-dipole (see the scheme below). A more accurate method to describe the electronic distribution on a 1,3-dipole is to assign the major resonance contributor based on experimental or theoretical data, such as dipole moment measurements or computations. For example, diazomethane bears the largest negative character at the terminal nitrogen atom, while hydrazoic acid bears the largest negative character at the internal nitrogen atom.



Consequently, this ambivalence means that the ends of a 1,3-dipole can be treated as both nucleophilic and electrophilic at the same time. The extent of nucleophilicity and electrophilicity at each end can be evaluated using the frontier molecular orbitals, which can be obtained computationally. In general, the atom that carries the largest orbital coefficient in the HOMO acts as the nucleophile, whereas that in the LUMO acts as the electrophile. The most nucleophilic atom is usually, but not always, the most electron-rich atom. In 1,3-dipolar cycloadditions, identity of the dipole-dipolarophile pair determines whether the HOMO or the LUMO character of the 1,3-dipole will dominate (see discussion on frontier molecular orbitals below).


The most commonly used dipolarophiles are alkenes and alkynes. Heteroatom-containing dipolarophiles such as carbonyls and imines can also undergo 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition. Other examples of dipolarophiles include fullerenes and nanotubes, which can undergo 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition with azomethine ylide in the Prato reaction.

Solvent effects

1,3-dipolar cycloadditions experience very little solvent effect because both the reactants and the transition states are generally non-polar. For example, the rate of reaction between phenyl diazomethane and ethyl acrylate or norbornene (see scheme below) changes only slightly upon varying solvents from cyclohexane to methanol.


Lack of solvent effects in 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition is clearly demonstrated in the reaction between enamines and dimethyl diazomalonate (see scheme below). The polar reaction, N-cyclopentenyl pyrrolidine nucleophilic addition to the diazo compound, proceeds 1,500 times faster in polar DMSO than in non-polar decalin. On the other hand, a close analog of this reaction, N-cyclohexenyl pyrrolidine 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition to dimethyl diazomalonate, is sped up only 41-fold in DMSO relative to decalin.


Frontier molecular orbital theory


1,3-Dipolar cycloadditions are pericyclic reactions, which obey the Dewar-Zimmerman rules and the Woodward–Hoffmann rules. In the Dewar-Zimmerman treatment, the reaction proceeds through a 5-center, zero-node, 6-electron Huckel transition state for this particular molecular orbital diagram. However, each orbital can be randomly assigned a sign to arrive at the same result. In the Woodward–Hoffmann treatment, frontier molecular orbitals (FMO) of the 1,3-dipole and the dipolarophile overlap in the symmetry-allowed π4s + π2s manner. Such orbital overlap can be achieved in three ways: type I, II and III. The dominant pathway is the one which possesses the smallest HOMO-LUMO energy gap.

Type I

The dipole has a high-lying HOMO which overlaps with LUMO of the dipolarophile. A dipole of this class is referred to as a HOMO-controlled dipole or a nucleophilic dipole, which includes azomethine ylide, carbonyl ylide, nitrile ylide, azomethine imine, carbonyl imine and diazoalkane. These dipoles add to electrophilic alkenes readily. Electron-withdrawing groups (EWG) on the dipolarophile would accelerate the reaction by lowering the LUMO, while electron-donating groups (EDG) would decelerate the reaction by raising the HOMO. For example, the reactivity scale of diazomethane against a series of dipolarophiles is shown in the scheme below. Diazomethane reacts with the electron-poor ethyl acrylate more than a million times faster than the electron rich butyl vinyl ether.

This type resembles the normal-electron-demand Diels-Alder reaction, in which the diene HOMO combines with the dienophile LUMO.


Type II

HOMO of the dipole can pair with LUMO of the dipolarophile; alternatively, HOMO of the dipolarophile can pair with LUMO of the dipole. This two-way interaction arises because the energy gap in either direction is similar. A dipole of this class is referred to as a HOMO-LUMO-controlled dipole or an ambiphilic dipole, which includes nitrile imide, nitrone, carbonyl oxide, nitrile oxide, and azide. Any substituent on the dipolarophile would accelerate the reaction by lowering the energy gap between the two interacting orbitals; i.e., an EWG would lower the LUMO while an EDG would raise the HOMO. For example, azides react with various electron-rich and electron-poor dipolarophile with similar reactivities (see reactivity scale below).


Type III

The dipole has a low-lying LUMO which overlaps with HOMO of the dipolarophile (indicated by red dashed lines in the diagram). A dipole of this class is referred to as a LUMO-controlled dipole or an electrophilic dipole, which includes nitrous oxideand ozone. EWGs on the dipolarophile decelerate the reaction, while EDGs accelerate the reaction. For example, ozone reacts with the electron-rich 2-methylpropene about 100,000 times faster than the electron-poor tetrachloroethene (see reactivity scale below).[18]

This type resembles the inverse electron-demand Diels-Alder reaction, in which the diene LUMO combines with the dienophile HOMO.


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