Symmetry-enthalpy correlations in diels-alder reactions

Inbal Tuvi-Arad, David Avnir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Woodward-Hoffmann (WH) rules provide strict symmetry selection rules: when they are obeyed, a reaction proceeds; when they are not obeyed, there is no reaction. However, the voluminous experimental literature provides ample evidence that strict compliance to symmetry requirements is not an obstacle for a concerted reaction to proceed, and therefore the idea has developed that it is enough to have a certain degree of the required symmetry to have reactivity. Here we provide quantitative evidence of that link, and show that as one deviates from the desired symmetry, the enthalpy of activation increases, that is, we show that concerted reactions slow down the further they are from the ideal symmetry. Specifically, we study the deviation from mirror symmetry (evaluated with the continuous symmetry measure (CSM)) of the [4+2] carbon skeleton of the transition state of a series of twelve Diels-Alder reactions in seven different solvents (and in the gas phase), in which the dienes are butadiene, cyclopentadiene, cyclohexadiene, and cycloheptadiene; the dienophiles are the 1-, 1,1-, and 1,1,2-cyanoethylene derivatives; the solvents were chosen to sample a range of dielectric constants from heptane to ethanol. These components provide twenty-four symmetry-enthalpy DFT-calculated correlation lines (out of which only one case is a relatively mild exception) that show the general trend of increase in enthalpy as symmetry decreases. The various combinations between the dienophiles, cyanoethylenes, and solvents provide all kinds of sources for symmetry deviations; it is therefore remarkable that although the enthalpy of activation is dictated by various parameters, symmetry emerges as a primary parameter. In our analysis we also bisected this overall picture into solvent effects and geometry variation effects to evaluate under which conditions the electronic effects are more dominant than symmetry effects. Rules are made to be broken: Correlations are established between the degree of symmetry of the transition state, estimated by the continuous symmetry measure (CSM), and the activation enthalpy for a series of Diels-Alder reactions in various solvents (see figure). These findings quantitatively "gray" the strict Woodward-Hoffmann rules for cases that are devoid of ideal symmetry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10014-10020
Number of pages7
JournalChemistry - A European Journal
Issue number32
StatePublished - 6 Aug 2012


  • Woodward-Hoffmann rules
  • cycloaddition
  • pericyclic reaction
  • solvent effects
  • symmetry measures


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