Abstract The recent upswing in custom peptide synthesis has been accompanied by an increasing interest in nonproteinogenic amino acids. These include the α,α-disubstituted glycines, the best known of which is Aib (2-aminoisobutyric acid, 2-methylalanine). These α-amino acids occur in natural oligopeptides such as the peptaibols, a class of membrane-active ionophores that has been isolated from fungal cultures. The twofold substitution at the α-C atom of the amino acids severely restricts the conformational freedom of the peptides and causes particular secondary structures to be favored; thus, α, α-disubstituted α-amino acids induce the formation of β turns or helices. 3-Amino-2 H -azirines are ideal synthons for the construction of oligopeptides, cyclic peptides and depsipeptides (peptolides) containing such α,α-disubstituted α-amino acids.
The presence of the ring strain in these molecules means that they can be used in peptide coupling without the need for additional activating reagents. Using 3-amino-2 H -azirines a large array of heterocycles containing α, α-disubstituted α-amino acids as structural elements within their skeleton can be synthesized. The driving force in these reactions is the release of the strain on the three-membered ring, which usually takes place in a ring-expansion reaction. The mechanistic elucidation of these reactions, which can be quite complex, contains some surprises.
[reaction: see text] Fmoc amino acid symmetrical anhydrides are efficient and readily available reagents for acylation of the N-terminus of highly hindered C(alpha)(alpha)-dialkylated alpha-amino acids. Comparison of a variety of coupling protocols showed that the symmetrical anhydride method always provided the superior results. This method was successfully applied to the solid-phase synthesis of a custom peptide synthesis containing three alpha(alpha)AAs at alternating positions.