Synthesis of lignin-carbohydrate model compounds and neolignans

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Virginia Tech


Woody plants are the most abundant renewable resources on the earth. From the paper we consume to the house we live in, our daily lives rely heavily on woody plants. Over the past decades, enormous efforts have been expended to improve the utilization of fiber and wood. For example, much research has been conducted to develop environmentally benign, and economically feasible techniques for pulp and papermaking. The economical conversion of wood to useful sugars and alcohol has also been the subject of intensive research. Investigations aimed at the genetic manipulation of wood growth to better meet our needs are also underway. Nonetheless, harsh pulping and bleaching conditions are still required in the pulp and paper industry, and the bioconversion of polysaccharides in biomass to alcohol is still too expensive. An argument could be put forth that a major reason for this is the lack of basic knowledge concerning the structural and biochemical characteristics of the plant cell wall.

The three major polymeric components of plant cell walls, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, are intimately associated with one another. Cellulose is associated with hemicellulose via non-covalent linkages, whereas lignin is theorized to be associated with cellulose and hemicellulose via both covalent and non-covalent linkages. The nature of associations between wood polymers is still poorly understood. However, it is these intimate associations that make delignification difficult, and make the bioconversion of polysaccharides to alcohol inefficient. It is also believed that the linkages between lignin and polysaccharides are responsible for the reduced digestibility of grasses by ruminants.

Besides cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, there are many secondary metabolites such as lignans, neolignans, tannins and terpenoids. The structures of lignans and neolignans are analogous to the interunits of lignin. Lignin is considered an optically inactive polymer, whereas lignans and neolignans are optically active small molecules. Although it has been proposed that the biosynthesis of lignin, lignans and neolignans are via the same oxidative coupling mechanism, it is still unclear that how the plant cell wall differentiates the formation of lignans, neolignans and lignin. How and why plant cell wall generates so many lignans and neolignans having broad structural variation is also unknown. As a matter of fact, it is still uncertain which enzymes are actually involved in the biosynthesis of lignin. A better understanding of biosynthetic pathways of lignin, lignans and neolignans is a prerequisite for the genetic manipulation of plant growth.

Investigations described in this dissertation were an effort to better understand the fundamental aspects of covalent linkages between lignin and hemicellulose in wood. Enantiomeric synthesis of neolignans provides a tool for investigating the optically active nature of neolignans, and may be helpful to study the biosynthetic pathways of neolignans.

Chapter | describes chemical structures of wood components and the biosynthesis of lignin, lignans and neolignans. The mechanisms of lignin-carbohydrate bond formation are also discussed, and a concise review of lignin-carbohydrate linkages proposed in the literature concludes Chapter 1. Chapter 2 presents the methods used in investigating covalent linkages in wood, which include methods of isolating lignin-carbohydrate complexes, chemical cleavage methods, DDQ oxidation and model compound/NMR methods. The synthesis of plant cell wall model compounds and neolignans are reviewed in Chapter 3.

The experimental work performed for the completion of this thesis is described in Chapters 4-8. A method which provides β-𝘖-4 lignin model dimers with complete threo stereospecificity is described in Chapter 4. This method is complementary to the current method for the preparation of erythro lignin model dimers. Chapter 5 presents a practical synthesis of methyl 4-𝘖-methy] α-D-glucopyranosiduronic acid. Methyl 4-𝘖-methyl-α-D-glucopyranosiduronic acid was prepared from methyl α-D-glucopyranoside in 4 steps (74% overall yield). Previous preparations of this compound were much lengthier, and had very low overall yields. Chapter 6 deals with the synthesis and rearrangement reactions of ester-linked lignin-carbohydrate model compounds. A series of ester-linked lignin-carbohydrate model compounds were synthesized, and migration of the uronosy] group between the primary (γ) and benzyl (α) position of lignin side chain is discussed. Several approaches to synthetic neolignans are described in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 presents a novel approach for the preparation of chiral aryl alkylethers. The successful application of this novel approach to synthesis of several optically active 8-𝘖-4 neolignans and a 1,4- benzodioxane neolignan is described, as is the introduction of an alkyl] aryl ether bond in carbohydrate molecules.

Some of the material of this dissertation has been reported in the following papers:

  1. Li, K. and Helm, R. F. Approaches to Synthetic Neolignans. J. Chem. Soc. Perkin Trans 1. Accepted.

  2. Li, K. and Helm, R. F. Use of Carbohydrates as Building Blocks to Synthesize Neolignans. 211th ACS National ACS Meeting, New Orleans, March 24-28, 1996. CELL-079.

  3. Li, K. and Helm, R. F. A Practical Synthesis of Methyl 4-𝘖-Methylα-D-Glucopyranosiduronic Acid. Carbohydr. Res. 273(1995), 249-253.

  4. Li, K. and Helm, R. F. Synthesis and Rearrangement Reactions of Ester-Linked Lignin-Carbohydrate Model Compounds. J. Agric. Food Chem. 48(1995), 2098-2103.

  5. Helm, R. F. and Li, K. Complete threo Stereospecificity for the Preparation of β-𝘖-4 Lignin Model Dimers. Holzforschung. 49(1995), 533-536.

  6. Helm, R. F. and Li, K. Synthesis and Rearrangement Reactions of Lignin-uronic Acid Model Compounds Related to Hardwood Cell Wall Structure. The 8th International Symposium on Wood and Pulping Chemistry. Helsinki, Finland, June 1995, vol. 1, pp107-114.

  7. Li, K. and Helm, R. F. Approaches to Synthetic Neolignans, 34th National Organic Symposium, Williamsburg, VA. June 11-15, 1995. Poster 281.



benzodioxane, uronic acid, model compounds, lignin-carbohydrate, synthesis, neolignans