Terpene Tail-to-Head Polycyclization Mediated by Small Molecule Catalysts: A Weakly-Coordinating Anion Approach

Biomimetic total synthesis has played a pivotal role in the development of synthetic organic chemistry. In particular, efforts aimed at mimicking the head-to-tail (HT) cation–π cyclization cascades invoked in terpene biosynthesis, such as those catalyzed by type-II cyclases, have led to a multitude of new synthetic methods, chemical concepts, and total syntheses over the past century. Conversely, synthetic methodology that mimics tail-to-head (TH) cation–π cyclization cascades, mediated by Mg2+ type-I terpene cyclases, remains elusive in organic synthesis, despite key roles in the biosynthesis of privileged therapeutic molecules such as taxol and artemesinin. Here we report that Li+/weakly-coordinating anion (WCA) salts catalyze the TH polycyclization of linaloyl fluoride, leading to high-yielding mixtures of polycyclic terpene natural products including cedrenes, cadinadiene, epizonarene, and 𝛿-selinene. The examples reported herein are the first small molecule-catalyzed TH polycyclization reactions enabling the shortest (formal) total synthesis of (±)-artemisinin. Moreover we apply this strategy to the diterpene geranyllinaloyl fluoride, resulting in a two-step total synthesis of the tricyclic core of the gersemiols (named here as α-gersemiene), a recently discovered class of marine diterpenoid natural products.