Direct Formation of Oxocarbenium Ions under Weakly Acidic Conditions: Catalytic Enantioselective Oxa-Pictet–Spengler Reactions

Two catalysts, an amine HCl salt and a bisthiourea, work in concert to enable the generation of oxocarbenium ions under mild conditions. The amine catalyst generates an iminium ion of sufficient electrophilicity to enable 1,2-attack by an alcohol. Catalyst turnover is achieved by amine elimination with concomitant formation of an oxocarbenium intermediate. The bisthiourea catalyst accelerates all of the steps of the reaction and controls the stereoselectivity via anion binding/ion pair formation. This new concept was applied to direct catalytic enantioselective oxa-Pictet–Spengler reactions of tryptophol with aldehydes.