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14.4: The Diels-Alder Cycloaddition Reaction

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    After completing this section, you should be able to

    1. write an equation to represent a typical Diels-Alder reaction.
    2. draw the structure of the product formed when a given conjugated diene reacts with a given dienophile in a Diels-Alder reaction.
    3. identify the diene and dienophile that must be used to prepare a given compound by a Diels-Alder reaction.
    4. explain the general mechanism of the Diels-Alder reaction, without necessarily being able to describe it in detail.
    Key Terms

    Make certain that you can define, and use in context, the key terms below.

    • Diels-Alder cycloaddition
    • pericyclic reaction
    Study Notes

    The Diels-Alder reaction is an example of an organic chemical reaction which does not proceed by either a polar or a free radical pathway, but rather a pericyclic reaction.

    Although we do not expect you to be able to provide a detailed account of the mechanism of this reaction, you should learn enough about the Diels-Alder reaction to fulfil the objectives stated above. You will find it useful to contrast the mechanism of the Diels-Alder reaction with the polar and radical mechanisms studied earlier.

    The unique character of conjugated dienes manifests itself dramatically in the Diels-Alder Cycloaddition Reaction. The Diels-Alder reaction is an important and widely used synthetic method for making six-membered rings. In the Diels-Alder reaction, a conjugated diene, simply referred to as the diene, reacts with a double or triple bond co-reactant called the dienophile, because it combines with (has an affinity for) the diene. During the reaction, two pi-bonds are converted to two sigma-bonds. The Diels-Alder cycloaddition is classified as a pericyclic process. Pericyclic reactions involve the redistribution of bonding electrons in a single step mechanism and will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 30.  In particular, the Diels-alder reaction is called a [4+2] process because the diene has four pi-electrons that shift position in the reaction and the dienophile has two. 

    General Reaction

    General Reaction.png

    An example of the Diels-Alder reaction is the cycloaddition of 1,3-butadiene to cyanoethene (acrylonitrile) to form 4-cyanocyclohexene.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)


    Example 1.svg


    All of the electron rearrangements of the Diels-Alder reaction take place once in a single mechanistic step. During this step carbons 1 and 4 of the diene and both alkene carbons of the dienophile, rehybridize from sp2 to sp3 and electrons rearrange to create two new sigma bonds in the cyclic product. Carbons 2 and 3 of the diene remain sp2 hybridized and form a new pi bond in the product.

    Mechanism 1.svg

    The mechanism occurs through a cyclic transition state in which there is head-on overlap of two p orbitals on carbons 1 and 4 of the diene with the two p orbitals from the alkene of the dienophile to form two new sigma bonds in the cyclohexene product. The remaining two p orbitals from the diene overlap to form the new pi bond. 


    Transitiion State.png





    Contributors and Attributions

    14.4: The Diels-Alder Cycloaddition Reaction is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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