Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley developed an enzyme-like polymer catalyst consisting of a hyperbranched
polyethyleneimine derivative and proline that eliminates self-aldol reactions by suppressing an irreversible aldol pathway.
Self-aldol reactions with enolizable aldehydes in reactions such as cross-aldol processes represent a challenge to achieving
desired chemoselectivity (4).
The research team, led by Jean M.J. Frecht, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering in the Department of Chemistry
at the University of California at Berkeley, points out that the usual approach for suppressing self-aldol reactions is to
use large excesses of one reaction component. Initial research suggests that using the polymer catalyst allows the aldol reaction
to proceed selectively in water. The polymer catalyst system or a modified version has the potential, for example, to prepare
a, -unsaturated ketones using cross ketone/aldehyde reactions without the need for excess substrate (4).
Natural products can offer a pool of potential drug candidates, but the lack of a synthetic or semisynthetic route to making
a compound of interest can limit the applications in drug development. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley,
the University of British Columbia, and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich, recently reported using biomimetic
synthesis to make exiguamine A and B. Exiguamine A and B are natural products derived from a marine sponge found in the waters
of Papua New Guinea. They inhibit the action of indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase (IDO), an enzyme that protects the fetus during
pregnancy against an immune response of the mother, and are being explored in cancer research.
"Ultimately, IDO lends the cancer cells immunotolerance," said Dirk Trauner, professor for chemical biology and genetics at
LMU, in an Aug. 4, 2008 LMU press release. "This enzyme [IDO] can do so by breaking down the amino acid tryptophan, which
is essential for T-cells. But these immune cells are required by the body's immune response for destroying tumors. As such,
IDO inhibitors, and our substances [exiguamine A and B] are only two of many such agents [that] could be employed in cancer
therapy in [the] future for a large number tumors."
As the name implies, biomimetic synthesis parallels a synthetic or chemical route of a biological process. The approach is
considered most successful when biosynthetic intermediates are set up to undergo reaction cascades. An example is pericyclic
cascades or cationic polyene cyclizations that mimic the assembly of terpenoids (5).
Trauner and his team focused on the catecholamine cascade for synthesizing exiguamine A and later isolating exiguamine B.
Catecholamines are intermediates that have potential in synthetic reactions because they may be readily oxidized to highly
reactive electrophilic ortho-quinone and have a nucleophilic amine as an additional source of reactivity. The biosynthesis of exiguamine A involved a
tautomerization of an ortho-quinone to a vinyl ortho-quinone methide, which was the key step of the synthesis, followed by oxa-6p electrocyclization (5).
Trauner is exploring other organic reactions that can be used in natural product research. "We have achieved the first asymmetrical
Nazarov cyclizations and the first catalytic 6p electrocyclizations," he said in the LMU release. "These are important methods
for synthesizing five and six-member rings that play a central role in the chemistry of natural products. I am convinced that
the large majority of natural products are still unknown and that a multitude of interesting discoveries regarding their chemistry
and biology are awaiting us."
Patricia Van Arnum is a senior editor at Pharmaceutical Technology, 485 Route One South, Bldg F, First Floor, Iselin, NJ 08830 tel. 732.346.3072, firstname.lastname@example.org
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2. A.H. Hoveyda et al., "Highly Efficient Molybdenum-Based Catalysts for Enantioselective Alkene Metathesis," Nature
456 (7224), 933–937 (2008).
3. B. Halford, " A Catalyst With Fluxionality," Chem. Eng. News. 86 (47), 11 (2008).
4. J. Frecht, "Control of Aldol Reaction Pathways of Enolizable Aldehydes in an Aqueous Environment with a Hyperbranched
Polymeric Catalyst," J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 130 (51), 17287–17289 (2008).
5. D. Trauner et al., "Biomimetic Synthesis of the IDO Inhibitors Exiguamine A and B," Nature Chem. Bio, online, DOI:10.1038/nchembio.107, Aug. 1, 2008.