Mechanism and Origins of Stereoselectivity in the Cinchona Thiourea- and Squaramide-Catalyzed Asymmetric Michael Addition of Nitroalkanes to Enones
We report density functional theory calculations that examine the mechanism and origins of stereoselectivity of Soós' landmark discovery from 2005 that cinchona thioureas catalyze the asymmetric Michael addition of nitroalkanes to enones. We show that the electrophile is activated by the catalyst's protonated amine and that the nucleophile binds to the thiourea moiety by hydrogen bonding. These results lead to the correction of published mechanistic work which did not consider this activation mode. We have also investigated the corresponding cinchona squaramide-catalyzed reaction and found that it proceeds by the same mechanism despite the differences in the geometry of the two catalysts' hydrogen-bond-donating groups, which demonstrates the generality of this mechanistic model.