Intramolecular C–H insertions with donor/donor dirhodium carbenes provide a concise and highly stereoselective method to set two contiguous stereocenters in a single step. Herein, we report the insertion of donor/donor carbenes into stereogenic carbon centers allowing access to trisubstituted benzodihydrofurans in a single step. This study illuminates, for the first time, the stereochemical impact on the carbene center and delineates the structural factors that enable control over both stereogenic centers. Sterically bulky, highly activated C–H insertion centers exhibit high substrate control yielding a single diastereomer and a single enantiomer of product regardless of the catalyst used. Less bulky, less activated C–H insertion centers exhibit catalyst control over the diastereomeric ratio (dr) wherein a single enantiomer of each diastereomer is observed. A combination of experimental studies and DFT calculations elucidates the origin of these results. First, hydride transfer from the stereogenic insertion site proceeds with high stereoselectivity to the carbene center, thus determining the absolute configuration of the product. Second, the short lived zwitterionic intermediate can undergo diastereoselective ring-closure by an SE2 mechanism that is either controlled by the substrate or the catalyst. These results demonstrate that donor/donor carbenes exhibit uniquely stereoselective reactions that originate from a stepwise reaction mechanism, in contrast to the analogous concerted reactions of carbenes with one or more electron-withdrawing groups attached.
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