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Synthesis of N-heterocyclic carbene gold(I) complexes


N-heterocyclic carbene gold(I) chloride and hydroxide complexes are regularly used as synthons to access various oxygen-, nitrogen- or carbon-bound gold complexes. They are also widely employed as efficient catalysts in addition reactions of hydroelements to unsaturated bonds and in several rearrangement and decarboxylation protocols. Here we describe the multigram synthesis of the most common mononuclear N-heterocyclic carbene gold(I) chloride complexes bearing the N,N′-bis-(2,4,6-trimethylphenyl)imidazol-2-ylidene (IMes), N,N′-bis(2,6-diisopropylphenyl)imidazol-2-ylidene (IPr) and N,N′-bis(2,6-bis(diphenylmethyl)-4-methylphenyl)imidazol-2-ylidene (IPr*) ligands. Their synthesis is achieved through the straightforward and practical weak base approach in a total time of 4–5 h. This straightforward methodology is conducted under air and possesses considerable advantages over alternative routes, such as the use of a sustainable reaction solvent, minimal amounts of a mild base and commercially available or easily obtained starting materials. Additionally, we describe the synthesis of the mononuclear gold(I) hydroxide complex bearing the IPr ligand, using the state-of-the-art method requiring 24 h. Finally, the improved synthesis of the dinuclear gold(I) hydroxide complex [{Au(IPr)}2(μ-OH)][BF4] is described (~3 h). All procedures can be performed by researchers with standard training and lead to high yields (76–99%) of microanalytically pure bench-stable materials.

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Fig. 1: Synthetic routes toward [AuCl(NHC)] complexes.
Fig. 2: Large-scale synthesis of [AuCl(NHC)] complexes.
Fig. 3: Synthesis of [Au(OH)(NHC)] complexes.
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Data availability

The authors confirm that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article, its Supplementary Information and its Source Data files, as well as the primary supporting research papers.


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We are grateful to VLAIO (SBO project CO2PERATE). The Special Research Fund of Ghent University is acknowledged for a doctoral scholarship (01D14919) to N.V.T., as well as starting and project grants to S.P.N. The Research Foundation–Flanders is also gratefully acknowledged for a Fundamental Research PhD fellowship to N.V.T. (11I6921N).

Author information




F.N., N.V.T., A.C. and S.P.N. were involved in the design and optimization of the procedures described here. The manuscript was assembled and edited by all authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Fady Nahra or Steven P. Nolan.

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Peer review information Nature Protocols thanks Carlo Santini and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Key references using this protocol

Collado, A. et al. Chem. Commun. 49, 5541–5543 (2013):

Nahra, F. et al. Polyhedron 84, 59–62 (2014):

Gaillard, S. et al. Chem. Commun. 46, 2742–2744 (2010):

Gaillard, S. et al. Chem. Eur. J. 16, 13729–13740 (2010):

Key data used in this protocol

Collado, A. et al. Chem. Commun. 49, 5541–5543 (2013):

Nahra, F. et al. Polyhedron 84, 59–62 (2014):

Gaillard, S. et al. Chem. Eur. J. 16, 13729–13740 (2010):

Gómez-Suárez, A. et al. Organometallics 32, 1106–1111 (2013):

Marion, N. et al. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 131, 448–449 (2009):

Nun, P. et al. J. Organomet. Chem. 696, 7–11 (2011):

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

General considerations and Supplementary Figs. 1–5.

Supplementary Data 1

Raw NMR data for Complex 8 and IR data for Complexes 7 and 8

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Nahra, F., Tzouras, N.V., Collado, A. et al. Synthesis of N-heterocyclic carbene gold(I) complexes. Nat Protoc 16, 1476–1493 (2021).

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