Modulating the Bonding Properties of N-Heterocyclic Carbenes (NHCs): A Systematic Charge-Displacement Analysis

Carlo Alberto Gaggioli, Giovanni Bistoni, Gianluca Ciancaleoni, Francesco Tarantelli, Leonardo Belpassi, Paola Belanzoni

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28 Scopus citations


In view of their intensive use as ligands in many reactions catalyzed by transition-metal complexes, modulation of the bonding properties of N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs) on a rational basis is highly desirable, which should enable optimization of current applications or even promote new functions. In this paper, we provide a quantitative analysis of the chemical bond between a metal fragment AuCl and a series of 29 different NHCs in [(NHC)AuCl] complexes. NHCs electronic properties are modified through: i) variation of the groups attached to the NHC nitrogen atoms or backbone; ii) change of unsaturation/size of the NHC ring; iii) inclusion of paracyclophane moieties; or iv) heteroatom substitution on the NHC ring. For evaluating the donation and back-donation components of the Dewar–Chatt–Duncanson (DCD) model in the NHC−AuCl bond, we apply the charge-displacement (CD) analysis within the NOCV (natural orbitals for chemical valence) framework, a methodology that avoids the constraint of using symmetrized structures. We show that modulation of the NHC bonding properties requires substantial modification of their structure, such as, for instance, insertion of two ketone groups into the NHC backbone (which enhances the π back-donation bond component and introduces an effective electronic communication within the NHC ring) or replacement of a nitrogen atom in the ring with an sp3 or sp2 carbon atom (which increases and decreases the π back-donation bond component, respectively). We extend our investigation by quantitatively comparing the NHC electronic structures for a subset of 13 NHCs in [(NHC)PPh] adducts, the 31P NMR chemical shift values of which are experimentally available. The latter have been considered as a suitable tool for measuring the NHCs π acceptor properties [Bertrand et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2013, 52, 2939–2943]. We show that information obtained using the metal fragment can be transferred to the PPh moiety and vice versa. However, the 31P NMR chemical shift values only qualitatively correlate with the π acceptor properties of the NHCs, with the stronger π acidic carbenes as the most outliners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7558-7569
Number of pages12
JournalChemistry - A European Journal
Issue number31
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from MIUR (Rome, Italy) within the program FIRB-Futuro in Ricerca (RBFR1022UQ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim


  • N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs)
  • NMR spectroscopy
  • bond theory
  • coordination chemistry
  • density functional calculations

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