Tipson-Cohen reaction
The Tipson-Cohen reaction was first discovered in Washington D.C. at the National Bureau of Standards by Stuart Tipson and Alex Cohen. The Tipson-Cohen reaction occurs when two neighboring secondary sulfonyloxy groups in a sugar molecule are treated with zinc dust (Zn) and sodium iodide (NaI) in a refluxing solvent such as N,N-dimethylformamide (DMF) to give an unsaturated carbohydrate.


Unsaturated carbohydrates are desired as they are versatile building blocks that can be used in a variety of reactions. For example, they can be used as intermediates in the synthesis of natural products, or as dienophiles in the Diels-Alder reaction, or as precursors in the synthesis of oligosaccharides. The Tipson-Cohen reaction goes through a syn or anti elimination mechanism to produce an alkene in high to moderate yields. The reaction depends on the neighboring substituents. A mechanism for glucopyranosides and mannooyranosides is shown below.
Scheme 1: Syn elimination occurs with the glucopyranosides. Galactopyranosides follows a similar syn mechanism. Whereas, anti elimination occurs with mannopyranosides. Note that R could be a methanesulfonyl CH2O2S (Ms), or a toluenesulfonyl CH3C5H4O2S (Ts).

Reaction Mechanism

Scheme 3: The scheme illustrates the first displacement, the rate determining step and slowest step, where the starting material is converted to the iodo-intermediate. The intermediate is not detectable as it is rapidly converted to the unsaturated sugar. Experiments with azide instead of the iodide confirmed attack occurs at the C-3 as nitrogen-intermediates were isolated. The order of reactivity from most reactive to least reactive is: β-glucopyranosides > β-mannopyranosides > α-glucopyranosides> α-mannopyranosides.

The reaction of β–mannopyranosides gives low yields and required longer reaction times than with β-glucopyranosides due to the presence of a neighboring axial substituent (sulfonyloxy) relative to C-3 sulfonyloxy group in the starting material. The axial substituent increases the steric interactions in the transition state, causing unfavorable eclipsing of the two sulfonyloxy groups. α-Glucopyranosides possess a β-trans-axial substituent relative to C-3 sulfonyloxy (anomeric OCH3 group) in the starting material. The β-trans-axial substituent influences the transition state by also causing an unfavorable steric interaction between the two groups. In the case of α-mannopyranosides, both a neighboring axial substituent (2-sulfonyloxy group) and a β-trans-axial substituent (anomeric OCH3 group) are present, therefore significantly increasing the reaction time and decreasing the yield.

Reaction Conditions

Substratea Time (hours) Yield (%)
β-glucopyranoside 0.5 85
β-mannopyranoside 2.5 66
α-glucopyranoside 12 55
α-mannopyranoside 15 10

aSubstrates possess benzylidene protecting groups at C-4 and C-6, OMe groups at anomeric position and OTs groups at C-2 and C-3. Reaction temperature 95-100˚C

Table 1: Reaction times and yield vary on the substrate. The β-glucopyranoside was found to be the best substrate for the Tipson-Cohen reaction as the reaction time and yield were much superior that any other substrate proposed in the study.

Reaction Scope

  • The reaction has been attempted in the microwave, improving yields with the α-glucopyranoside to 88% and reducing the reaction time significantly to 14 minutes.
  • The original paper by Tipson and Cohen also used acyclic sugars to illustrate the utility of the reaction. Thus the reaction is not limited to cyclic carbohydrate derivatives.
  • Sulphonoxy groups such as methanesulfonyl and toluenesulfonyl were both used, however it was found that substrates with toluenesulfonyl groups gave higher yields and lower reaction times.,,
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