Direct Observation of Intermediates Involved in the Interruption of the Bischler–Napieralski Reaction

The first mechanistic investigation of electrophilic amide activation of α,α-disubstituted tertiary lactams and the direct observation of key intermediates by in situ FTIR, <sup>1</sup>H, <sup>13</sup>C, and <sup>19</sup>F NMR in our interrupted Bischler–Napieralski-based synthetic strategy to the aspidosperma alkaloids, including a complex tetracyclic diiminium ion, is discussed. The reactivity of a wide range of pyridines with trifluoromethanesulfonic anhydride was systematically examined, and characteristic IR absorption bands for the corresponding <i>N</i>-trifluoromethanesulfonylated pyridinium trifluoromethanesulfonates were assigned. The reversible formation of diiminium ether intermediates was studied, providing insight into divergent mechanistic pathways as a function of the steric environment of the amide substrate and stoichiometry of reagents. Importantly, when considering base additives during electrophilic amide activation, more hindered α-quaternary tertiary lactams require the use of non-nucleophilic pyridine additives in order to avoid deactivation via a competing desulfonylation reaction. The isolation and full characterization of a tetracyclic iminium trifluoromethanesulfonate provided additional correlation between in situ characterization of sensitive intermediates and isolable compounds involved in this synthetic transformation.