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Meso Compounds

Achiral Diastereomers (meso-Compounds)

The chiral centers in the preceding examples have all been different. In the case of 2,3-dihydroxybutanedioic acid, known as tartaric acid, the two chiral centers have the same four substituents and are equivalent. As a result, two of the four possible stereoisomers of this compound are identical due to a plane of symmetry, so there are only three stereoisomeric tartaric acids. Two of these stereoisomers are enantiomers and the third is an achiral diastereomer, called a meso compound. Meso compounds are achiral (optically inactive) diastereomers of chiral stereoisomers. Investigations of isomeric tartaric acid salts, carried out by Louis Pasteur in the mid 19th century, were instrumental in elucidating some of the subtleties of stereochemistry. Some physical properties of the isomers of tartaric acid are given in the following table.

(+)-tartaric acid: [α]D = +13º m.p. 172 ºC
(–)-tartaric acid: [α]D = –13º m.p. 172 ºC
meso-tartaric acid: [α]D = 0º m.p. 140 ºC

Fischer projection formulas provide a helpful view of the configurational relationships within the structures of these isomers. In the following illustration a mirror line is drawn between formulas that have a mirror-image relationship. In demonstrating the identity of the two meso-compound formulas, remember that a Fischer projection formula may be rotated 180º in the plane.


A model of meso-tartaric acid may be examined by

An additional example, consisting of two meso compounds, may be examined by