We present a computational study on the enantioselectivity of organocatalytic proline-catalyzed aldol reactions between aldehydes in dimethylformamide (DMF). To explore the free energy surface of the reaction, we apply two-dimensional metadynamics on top of ab initio
molecular dynamics (AIMD) simulations with explicit solvent description on the DFT level of theory. We avoid unwanted side reactions by utilizing our newly developed hybrid AIMD (HyAIMD) simulation scheme, which adds a simple force field to the AIMD simulation to prevent unwanted bond breaking and formation. Our condensed phase simulation results are able to nicely reproduce the experimental findings, including the main stereoisomer that is formed, and give a correct qualitative prediction of the change in syn:anti
product ratio with different substituents. Furthermore, we give a microscopic explanation for the selectivity. We show that both the explicit description of the solvent and the inclusion of entropic effects are vital to a good outcome—metadynamics simulations in vacuum and static nudged elastic band (NEB) calculations yield significantly worse predictions when compared to the experiment. The approach described here can be applied to a plethora of other enantioselective or organocatalytic reactions, enabling us to tune the catalyst or determine the solvent with the highest stereoselectivity.
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