Asynchronicity in Diels-Alder reactions plays a crucial role in determining the height of the reaction barrier. Currently, the origin of asynchronicity is ascribed to the stronger orbital interaction between the diene and the terminal carbon of an asymmetric dienophile, which shortens the corresponding newly formed C-C bond and hence induces asynchronicity in the reaction. Here, we show, using the activation strain model and Kohn-Sham molecular orbital theory at ZORA-BP86/TZ2P, that this rationale behind asynchronicity is incorrect. We, in fact, found that following a more asynchronous reaction mode costs favorable HOMO-LUMO orbital overlap and, therefore, weakens (not strengthens) these orbital interactions. Instead, it is the Pauli repulsion that induces asynchronicity in Diels-Alder reactions. An asynchronous reaction pathway also lowers repulsive occupied-occupied orbital overlap which, therefore, reduces the unfavorable Pauli repulsion. As soon as this mechanism of reducing Pauli repulsion dominates, the reaction begins to deviate from synchronicity and adopts an asynchronous mode. The eventual degree of asynchronicity, as observed in the transition state of a Diels-Alder reaction, is ultimately achieved when the gain in stability, as a response to the reduced Pauli repulsion, balances with the loss of favorable orbital interactions.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Dutch Astrochemistry Network (DAN) for financial support. This work was carried out on the Dutch national e-infrastructure with the support of SURF cooperative.
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