Letter | Published:

Direct arylation of strong aliphatic C–H bonds

Naturevolume 560pages7075 (2018) | Download Citation


Despite the widespread success of transition-metal-catalysed cross-coupling methodologies, considerable limitations still exist in reactions at sp3-hybridized carbon atoms, with most approaches relying on prefunctionalized alkylmetal or bromide coupling partners1,2. Although the use of native functional groups (for example, carboxylic acids, alkenes and alcohols) has improved the overall efficiency of such transformations by expanding the range of potential feedstocks3,4,5, the direct functionalization of carbon–hydrogen (C–H) bonds—the most abundant moiety in organic molecules—represents a more ideal approach to molecular construction. In recent years, an impressive range of reactions that form C(sp3)–heteroatom bonds from strong C–H bonds has been reported6,7. Additionally, valuable technologies have been developed for the formation of carbon–carbon bonds from the corresponding C(sp3)–H bonds via substrate-directed transition-metal C–H insertion8, undirected C–H insertion by captodative rhodium carbenoid complexes9, or hydrogen atom transfer from weak, hydridic C–H bonds by electrophilic open-shell species10,11,12,13,14. Despite these advances, a mild and general platform for the coupling of strong, neutral C(sp3)–H bonds with aryl electrophiles has not been realized. Here we describe a protocol for the direct C(sp3) arylation of a diverse set of aliphatic, C–H bond-containing organic frameworks through the combination of light-driven, polyoxometalate-facilitated hydrogen atom transfer and nickel catalysis. This dual-catalytic manifold enables the generation of carbon-centred radicals from strong, neutral C–H bonds, which thereafter act as nucleophiles in nickel-mediated cross-coupling with aryl bromides to afford C(sp3)–C(sp2) cross-coupled products. This technology enables unprecedented, single-step access to a broad array of complex, medicinally relevant molecules directly from natural products and chemical feedstocks through functionalization at sites that are unreactive under traditional methods.

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The research reported here was supported by the National Institutes of Health National Institute of General Medical Sciences (R01 GM103558-03) and gifts from MSD, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Genentech, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. The authors thank C. Kraml, N. Byrne and L. Wilson (Lotus Separations) for compound purification and I. Pelczer for assistance in structure determination.

Author contributions

I.B.P., T.F.B., P.J.S. and D.M.S. performed and analysed the experiments. I.B.P., T.F.B., P.J.S., D.M.S., D.A.D. and D.W.C.M. designed the experiments. I.B.P., T.F.B., P.J.S. and D.W.C.M. prepared the manuscript.

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Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Ian B. Perry, Thomas F. Brewer


  1. Merck Center for Catalysis at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA

    • Ian B. Perry
    • , Thomas F. Brewer
    • , Patrick J. Sarver
    •  & David W. C. MacMillan
  2. Department of Process Chemistry, Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, NJ, USA

    • Danielle M. Schultz
    •  & Daniel A. DiRocco


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The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David W. C. MacMillan.

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