In 1903, B. Tollens and von Marle discovered that the reaction of acetophenone, formaldehyde, and ammonium chloride resulted in the formation of a tertiary amine. This observation was later extended by C. Mannich in 1917, who applied the same conditions to antipyrine and identified the broader applicability of this reaction.

This process, known as the Mannich reaction, involves the condensation of a CH-activated compound, such as an aldehyde or ketone, with a primary or secondary amine (or ammonia) and a non-enolizable aldehyde (or ketone). The outcome is the formation of amino alkylated derivatives, commonly referred to as Mannich bases.

Key Features

  1. The CH-activated component is typically an aliphatic or aromatic aldehyde or ketone, carboxylic acid derivatives, β-dicarbonyl compounds, nitroalkanes, and electron-rich aromatic compounds like phenols (activated at the ortho position), and terminal alkynes.
  2. Primary and secondary aliphatic amines or their hydrochloride salts are suitable.
  3. The non-enolizable carbonyl compound is typically formaldehyde.
  4. Primary amine-initiated reactions can proceed to yield N, N-dialkyl derivatives (tertiary amines), whereas secondary amines avoid overalkylation.
  5. A protic solvent like ethanol, methanol, water, or acetic acid is usually employed to maintain a high concentration of the electrophilic iminium ion, responsible for amino alkylation.
  6. Asymmetrical ketones may yield regioisomeric Mannich bases, but the product from the more substituted α-position is often dominant.
  7. Mannich bases are valuable intermediates for various transformations: β-elimination to create α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds (Michael acceptors), reaction with organolithium or Grignard reagents for β-amino alcohols, and substitution of the dialkylamino group with nucleophiles for functionalized carbonyl compounds.

Mannich reaction


The mechanism of the Mannich reaction has undergone extensive exploration. This reaction can occur in both acidic and basic environments, although acidic conditions are more commonly employed.

When conducted under acidic conditions, the initial stage involves the reaction of the amine with the carbonyl compound. This yields a hemiaminal, which subsequently loses a water molecule after proton transfer. This loss of water results in the formation of an electrophilic iminium ion. This iminium ion engages in a reaction with the enolized carbonyl compound (nucleophile) at its α-carbon, resembling an aldol-type reaction which leads to the formation of the Mannich base.

Mechanism of mannich reaction

Side Products of the Mannich Reaction

Due to the resultant product being a nitrogen base, there exists the possibility of its interaction with formaldehyde, giving rise to an additional iminium ion. This subsequent iminium ion may then undergo further condensation with one or two extra molecules of either the ketone or the aldehyde involved in the reaction.

Side Products of the Mannich Reaction

An alternative potential byproduct arises when the carbonyl compound possesses two or three acidic hydrogens. In such cases, there’s a possibility of the Mannich base undergoing condensation with one or two more molecules of aldehyde, generating further products.

Side Products of the Mannich Reaction


There are several variations associated with Mannich reaction.

1. Asymmetric Mannich reaction

Asymmetric Mannich reaction

2. Vinylogous Mannich reaction (VMR)

Vinylogous Mannich reaction (VMR)

3. Zinc-mediated Mannich-type transformation of 2,2,2-trifluoro diazoethane

A zinc-mediated Mannich-type transformation of 2,2,2-trifluoro diazoethane

4. Using preformed imine

Mannich reaction using preformed imine

Synthetic Applications

1. Efficient Synthesis of (±)-Aspidospermidine

The synthesis of (±)-aspidospermidine was successfully achieved by C.H. Heathcock and collaborators. Their synthetic approach centered around an intramolecular cascade reaction that simultaneously shaped the B, C, and D rings present in the natural compound.

As previously mentioned, the CH-activated element of the Mannich reaction can encompass an electron-rich aromatic ring, such as an indole. The initial material was subjected to TFA within a dichloromethane medium, resulting in the initial formation of an indole (B ring) alongside an acylammonium ion (D ring).

This acylammonium ion promptly underwent an intramolecular Mannich-type cyclization under these conditions, ultimately yielding the C ring.

Synthetic applications of mannich reaction

2. Regioselective Total Synthesis of (–)-O-Methylshikoccin

The utilization of preformed iminium salts in Mannich reactions eliminates the requirement for a protic solvent in the reaction medium.

Consequently, the employment of aprotic solvents becomes viable, thereby enabling the transformation of delicate intermediates, such as metal enolates. L.A. Paquette and colleagues effectively executed a highly regioselective incorporation of an exo-methylene functional group as part of the total synthesis of (–)-O-methylshikoccin.

This was accomplished by reacting a potassium enolate with the Eschenmoser salt. The outcome of this reaction was the formation of a β-N,N-dimethylamino ketone, which was subsequently converted into the corresponding quaternary ammonium salt. Upon elimination, the desired α,β-unsaturated ketone, achieved through the Eschenmoser methenylation, was successfully obtained.

Synthetic applications of mannich reaction

3. Mannich-Aza-Cope Tandem

The Mannich reaction finds prominent application in tandem with the aza-Cope rearrangement for generating heterocycles, an extensively recognized utilization. This reaction strategy played a pivotal role within the investigative work of L.E. Overman’s research group during the total synthesis of (±)-didehydrostemofoline, also known as asparagamine A.

To achieve this, the research employed the bicyclic amine hydrogen iodide salt as a starting point and subjected it to an excess of paraformaldehyde. This process facilitated the creation of the initial iminium ion intermediate, which readily underwent a smooth [3,3]-sigmatropic rearrangement.

The ensuing isomeric iminium ion then proceeded to engage with the enol in an intramolecular Mannich cyclization, forming the desired heterocyclic structure.

Synthetic applications of mannich reaction

4. Vinylogous Mannich Reaction in Action

Within S.F. Martin’s laboratory, the vinylogous Mannich reaction (VMR) showcased its utility through the utilization of a 2-silyloxyfuran in tandem with a carefully generated iminium ion.

This strategic combination served as the pivotal step in the enantioselective synthesis of (+)-croomine. To initiate this process, the carboxylic acid moiety of the initial compound was transformed into its corresponding acid chloride.

Subsequently, this acid chloride underwent a spontaneous decarbonylation process, leading to the formation of the pertinent iminium ion. When this iminium ion encountered the 2-silyloxyfuran, the ensuing reaction yielded the desired threo butenolide isomer, predominantly as the main product.

Synthetic applications of mannich reaction

Uses and Applications

  1. The Mannich reaction has found wide-ranging applications within various domains of organic chemistry, exemplified by: Alkyl amines Compounds like peptides, nucleotides, antibiotics, and alkaloids (for instance, tropinone).
  2. Agrochemicals, including plant growth regulators.
  3. Polymers and catalysts.
  4. Utilization in formaldehyde tissue crosslinking.
  5. Incorporation into pharmaceutical drugs such as rolitetracycline (formed from the Mannich product of tetracycline and pyrrolidine), fluoxetine (an antidepressant), tramadol, and tolmetin (an anti-inflammatory drug).
  6. Incorporation into soap and detergents, with applications spanning various cleaning processes, automotive fuel treatments, and epoxy coatings.
  7. Synthesis of polyether amines from substituted branched chain alkyl ethers.
  8. Synthesis of α,β-unsaturated ketones through the thermal degradation of Mannich reaction products (for example, the formation of methyl vinyl ketone from 1-diethylamino-butan-3-one).

Concepts Berg

What are the key components involved in the Mannich reaction?
The key components are an amine, a carbonyl compound (such as a ketone or aldehyde), and a formaldehyde source (often formaldehyde itself or a derivative like paraformaldehyde).

What is the significance of the Mannich reaction in organic synthesis?
The Mannich reaction is significant because it provides a way to introduce amino groups into organic molecules, allowing the synthesis of a wide range of important compounds, including pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and natural products.

What is the mechanism of the Mannich reaction?
The Mannich reaction typically proceeds through the nucleophilic addition of an amine to a carbonyl compound, followed by the addition of a formaldehyde derivative. This is often catalyzed by an acid or a base, depending on the reaction conditions.

What are some variations of the Mannich reaction?
Variations of the Mannich reaction include the asymmetric Mannich reaction, intramolecular Mannich reactions, and the use of different amine and carbonyl compound derivatives to access a wide range of products.

Why is the Mannich reaction named after Carl Mannich?
The Mannich reaction is named after its discoverer, Carl Mannich, a German chemist who first reported this reaction in 1912 while working at the University of Frankfurt.

References book

  • A Textbook of Strategic Applications of Named Reactions in Organic Synthesis book by Laszlo Kurti and Barbara Czako
  • A Textbook of Name Reactions: A Collection of Detailed Mechanisms and Synthetic Applications book by Jie Jack Li

References link