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The generic structure of a nitrene group

In chemistry, a nitrene (R-N:) is the nitrogen analogue of a carbene. The nitrogen atom has only 5 valence electrons and is therefore considered an electrophile. A nitrene is a reactive intermediate and is involved in many chemical reactions.[1][2]

Electron configuration[edit]

In the most simple nitrene, the linear imidogen (:N-H), two of the 6 available electrons form a covalent bond with hydrogen, two other create a free electron pair and the two remaining electrons occupy two degenerate p orbitals. Consistent with Hund's rule the low energy form of imidogen is a triplet with one electron in each of the p orbitals and the high energy form is the singlet state with an electron pair filling one p orbital and the other one vacant.

As with carbenes, a strong correlation exists between the spin density on the nitrogen atom which can be calculated in silico and the zero-field splitting parameter D which can be derived experimentally from electron spin resonance.[3] Small nitrenes such as NH or CF3N have D values around 1.8 cm−1 with spin densities close to a maximum value of 2. At the lower end of the scale are molecules with low D (< 0.4) values and spin density of 1.2 to 1.4 such as 9-anthrylnitrene and 9-phenanthrylnitrene.


Because nitrenes are so reactive, they are not isolated. Instead, they are formed as reactive intermediates during a reaction. There are two common ways to generate nitrenes:


Nitrene reactions include:

Nitrene Amidation
A nitrene intermediate is suspected in this C-H insertion involving an oxime, acetic anhydride leading to an isoindole:[5]
Synthesis of Cyclic and Spiro-Fused Imines
Nitrene Transfer Reaction

In most cases, however, [N-(p-nitrophenylsulfonyl)imino]phenyliodinane (PhI=NNs) is prepared separately as follows:

Preparation of PhINNs

Nitrene transfer takes place next:

Nitrene Transfer Reaction
In this particular reaction both the cis stilbene illustrated and the trans form (not depicted) result in the same trans-aziridine product, suggesting a two-step reaction mechanism. The energy difference between triplet and singlet nitrenes can be very small in some cases, allowing interconversion at room temperature. Triplet nitrenes are thermodynamically more stable but react stepwise allowing free rotation and thus producing a mixture of stereochemistry.[11]
Nitrene ring-expansion and ring-contraction
The nitrene ultimately converts to the ring-opened nitrile 5 through the diradical intermediate 7. In a high-temperature reaction, FVT at 500–600 °C also yields the nitrile 5 in 65% yield.[12]

Nitreno radicals[edit]

For several compounds containing both a nitrene group and a free radical group an ESR high-spin quartet has been recorded (matrix, crygenic temperatures). One of these has an amine oxide radical group incorporated,[13] another system has a carbon radical group.[14]

nitrene radical Sander 2008

In this system one of the nitrogen unpaired electrons is delocalized in the aromatic ring making the compound a sigma, sigma, pi-triradical. A carbene nitrogen radical (imidyl radical) resonance structure makes a contribution to the total electronic picture.


  1. ^ W. Lwowski, Ed. Nitrenes. (1970). Interscience. New York
  2. ^ C. Wentrup. Reactive Intermediates. (1984). Wiley. New York
  3. ^ a b Nitrenes, Diradicals, and Ylides. Ring Expansion and Ring Opening in 2-QuinazolylnitrenesDavid Kvaskoff, Pawel Bednarek, Lisa George, Kerstin Waich, and Curt Wentrup J. Org. Chem.; 2006; 71(11) pp 4049 - 4058; (Article) doi:10.1021/jo052541i
  4. ^ Intermolecular Amidation of Unactivated sp2 and sp3 C-H Bonds via Palladium-Catalyzed Cascade C-H Activation/Nitrene Insertion Hung-Yat Thu, Wing-Yiu Yu, and Chi-Ming Che J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 2006; 128(28) pp 9048 - 9049; (Communication) doi:10.1021/ja062856v
  5. ^ Novel Intramolecular Reactivity of Oximes: Synthesis of Cyclic and Spiro-Fused Imines Cécile G. Savarin, Christiane Grisé, Jerry A. Murry, Robert A. Reamer, and David L. Hughes Org. Lett.; 2007; 9(6) pp 981 - 983; (Letter) doi:10.1021/ol0630043
  6. ^ Nitrene Transfer Reactions Catalyzed by Gold Complexes Zigang Li, Xiangyu Ding, and Chuan He J. Org. Chem.; 2006; 71(16) pp 5876 - 5880; (Article) doi:10.1021/jo060016t
  7. ^ Development of the Copper-Catalyzed Olefin Aziridination Reaction David A. Evans, Margaret M. Faul, and Mark T. Bilodeau J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 1994; 116, 2742-2753.
  8. ^ Mechanistic Studies of Copper-Catalyzed Alkene Aziridination Peter Brandt, Mikael J. Sodergren, Pher G. Andersson, and Per-Ola Norrby J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 2000, 112, 8013-8020.
  9. ^ Advances in Nitrogen Transfer Reactions Involving Aziridines Iain D. G. Watson, Lily Yu, and Andrei K. Yudi Acc. Chem. Res.; 2006, 39, 194-206.
  10. ^ Reactants cis-stilbene or trans-stilbene, nitrene precursor p-nitrosulfonamide or Nosylamine which is oxidized by iodosobenzene diacetate. The gold catalyst is based on a terpyridine tridentate ligand
  11. ^ Aziridines and Epoxides in Organic Synthesis edited by Andrei K. Yudin 2007 Page 120. ISBN. 3-527-31213-7
  12. ^ the quinazoline is prepared from the corresponding bromide and sodium azide. The azide is in equilibrium with the tetrazole 3.
  13. ^ Heterospin organic molecules: nitrene–radical linkages Polyhedron, Volume 20, Issues 11-14, 30 May 2001, Pages 1647-1652 Paul M Lahti, Burak Esat, Yi Liao, Paul Serwinski, Jiang Lan and Richard Walton doi:10.1016/S0277-5387(01)00667-2
  14. ^ 2,3,5,6-Tetrafluorophenylnitren-4-yl: Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Characterization of a Quartet-Ground-State Nitreno Radical Wolfram Sander, Dirk Grote, Simone Kossmann, and Frank Neese J. AM. CHEM. SOC. 2008, 130, 4396-4403 doi:10.1021/ja078171s