The amino acid-catalyzed aldol condensation is of great interest in organic synthesis and natural environments such as atmospheric particles. But kinetic and mechanistic information on these reactions is limited. In this work, the kinetics of the aldol condensation of acetaldehyde in water and aqueous salt solutions (NaCl, CaCl2, Na2SO4, MgSO4), catalyzed by five amino acids (glycine, alanine, serine, arginine, and proline) at room temperature (295 ± 2K) has been studied. Monitoring the formation of three products, crotonaldehyde, 2,4-hexadienal, and 2,4,6-octatrienal by UV-Visible absorption over 200 – 1100 nm revealed two distinct kinetic regimes: at low amino acid concentrations (in all cases, below 0.1 M) the overall reaction was first order with respect to acetaldehyde and kinetically limited by the formation of the enamine intermediate. At larger amino acid concentrations (at least 0.3 M) the kinetics was second order and controlled by the C-C bond-forming step. The first-order rate constants increased linearly with amino acid concentration, consistent with the enamine formation. Inorganic salts further accelerated the enamine formation according to their pKb plausibly by facilitating the iminium and/or enamine formation. The rate constant of the C-C bond-forming step varied with the square of amino acid concentration, suggesting the involvement of two amino acid molecules. Thus, the reaction proceeded via a Mannich pathway. However, the contribution of an aldol pathway, first-order in amino acid, could not be excluded. Our results show that the rate constant for the self-condensation of acetaldehyde in aqueous atmospheric aerosols (up to 10 of mM of amino acids) is identical as in sulfuric acid 10 - 15 M (kI ~ 10-7 - 10-6 s-1), clearly illustrating the potential importance of amino acid catalysis in natural environments. This work also demonstrates that under usual laboratory conditions and in natural environments aldol condensation is likely to be kinetically controlled by the enamine formation. Notably, kinetic investigations of the C-C bond-forming addition step would only be possible with high concentrations of amino acids.
2008. Vol. 112, no 13, 2827-2837 p.