Detecting Elusive Intermediates in Carbohydrate Conversion: A Dynamic Ensemble of Acyclic Glucose-Catalyst Complexes

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The role of acyclic carbohydrates in pathways towards value-added chemicals has remained poorly characterized due to the low population of acyclic forms, and due to their instability under reaction conditions. We conduct steady-state and pre-steady state measurements by direct reaction progress monitoring with sensitivity-optimized NMR spectroscopy in the molybdatecatalyzed epimerization of glucose to mannose. We detect an exchanging pool of at least five acyclic glucose-catalyst complexes under near-optimum reaction conditions. In the presence of catalyst, the acyclic glucose population increases within few seconds prior to reaching a steady state. Exchange between the acyclic intermediates increases at conditions that favor epimerization. Species accounting for less than 0.05% of total glucose can be monitored with sub-second time resolution to allow kinetic analysis of intermediate formation and catalytic conversion. Epimerization occurs 2-3 orders of magnitude-fold faster than the binding of acyclic glucose to the catalyst at near-optimum reaction conditions. The current study brings insight in to the nature of acyclic intermediate-catalyst complexes of very low population and into experimental strategies for characterizing very minor intermediates in carbohydrate conversion to value-added compounds.
Original languageEnglish
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)5571-5577
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Acyclic tautomer
  • Epimerization
  • Glucose
  • Homogenous catalysis
  • Pre-steady-state
  • Reaction intermediate


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