C Percivalle, A La Rosa, D Verga, F Doria, M Mella, M Palumbo, M Di Antonio, M Freccero
J Org Chem
Photochemical activation of water-soluble 1,8-naphthalimide derivatives (NIs) as alkylating agents has been achieved by irradiation at 310 and 355 nm in aqueous acetonitrile. Reactivity in aqueous and neat acetonitrile has been extensively investigated by laser flash photolysis (LFP) at 355 nm, as well as by steady-state preparative irradiation at 310 nm in the presence of water, amines, thiols, and ethyl vinyl ether. Product distribution analysis revealed fairly efficient benzylation of the amines, hydration reaction, and 2-ethoxychromane generation, in the presence of ethyl vinyl ether, resulting from a [4 + 2] cycloaddition onto a transient quinone methide. Remarkably, we found that the reactivity was dramatically suppressed under the presence of oxygen and radical scavengers, such as thiols, which was usually associated with side product formation. In order to unravel the mechanism responsible for the photoreactivity of these NI-based molecules, a detailed LFP study has been carried out with the aim to characterize the transient species involved. LFP data suggest a photoinduced electron transfer (PET) involving the NI triplet excited state (λ(max) 470 nm) of the NI core and the tethered quinone methide precursor (QMP) generating a radical ions pair NI(•-) (λ(max) 410 nm) and QMP(•+). The latter underwent fast deprotonation to generate a detectable phenoxyl radical (λ(max) 390 and 700 nm), which was efficiently reduced by the radical anion NI(•-), generating detectable QM. The mechanism proposed has been validated through a LFP investigation at 355 nm exploiting an intermolecular reaction between the photo-oxidant N-pentylnaphthalimide (NI-P) and a quaternary ammonium salt of a Mannich base as QMP (2a), in both neat and aqueous acetonitrile. Remarkably, these experiments revealed the generation of the model o-QM (λ(max) 400 nm) as a long living transient mediated by the same reactivity pathway. Negligible QM generation has been observed under the very same conditions by irradiation of the QMP in the absence of the NI. Owing to the NIs redox and recognition properties, these results represent the first step toward new molecular devices capable of both biological target recognition and photoreleasing of QMs as alkylating species, under physiological conditions.