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I'm attempting to extract the diels alder reaction into a generic reaction and am trying to gain a better understanding of it.

Can a conjugated diene react with another conjugated diene via the diels alder reaction? And is the reaction limited to only dienes or can it be expanded to polyenes?

Does anyone happen to have a link as to the details on hetero diels alder reactions and the structures that can undergo such reactions and limitations on chemical species that can react via this reaction.

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Yes, conjugated dienes can react with other conjugated dienes in Diels-Alder reactions. A well known example of this is the dimerization of cyclopentadiene. All the standard caveats, restrictions, and other considerations still apply, namely:

  1. The diene must not be rotationally locked in such a way that it cannot adopt an s-cis/synperiplanar conformation. As a logical corollary, cyclic dienes that are already locked into the correct s-cis conformation often have lower activation barriers.
  2. The kinetics of the reaction are accelerated by electron-withdrawing substituents on the dienophile and electron-donating substituents on the diene.
  3. The stereochemistry of the major product is highly substrate-dependent. A preference for the endo isomer exists in cases where the dienophile has unsaturated substituents. In those cases, the transition state is stabilized by an overlap of the $\pi$-electron system between said unsaturated substituents and the $\pi$ orbitals of the newly forming double-bond at the back of the diene. (Just as a side note, Carey & Sundberg refer to this as the "Alder rule" in Advanced Organic Chemistry, but I've never seen that term used anywhere else.)

In principle, there's no reason why two conjugated $\pi$-bonds of a polyene cannot react similarly, provided they satisfy the orbital symmetry and conformational requirements and the reaction kinetics are favorable. Even aromatic molecules can undergo Diels-Alder reactions under the right set of conditions (see, for example, the Diels-Alder reaction between benzene and furan via a benzyne intermediate). There are also numerous instances of well-documented Diels-Alder reactions involving heteroatomic dienophiles, alkynes as dienophiles, polymerization reactions, etc.

If you can get your hands on the aforementioned Carey & Sundberg book, they discuss the Diels-Alder reaction at length (including relatively rigorous explanations of the stereospecifity and reaction kinetics via molecular orbital theory). If you're looking for a comprehensive reference, I doubt there's anything superior to the venerable March's Advanced Organic Chemistry. There's a chapter on Diels-Alder reactions (along with virtually every other organic chemistry reaction known to science), as well as a massive list of accumulated primary literature references if further detail is required.

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  • $\begingroup$ @Shawn, no problem, glad to be of any help. $\endgroup$ – Greg E. Jun 13 '13 at 1:14
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I'm speaking from memory, so this could be a little loose, but I believe dienes react just as well with other dienes via the diels alder reaction as with simple alkenes (of course, only attacking one of the conjugated double bonds). As for polyenes, I believe the same is true, but I'm not certain if there are added complexities there, and it would probably have to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

The reason for the disclaimer is that it's possible that the configuration of double bonds may or may not lock in the polyene into a planar or partially planar structure, in which case depending on how many other double bonds and their locations in one or both of the reagents could interfere with the traditional diers alder reaction. But as to your question, yes, you can apply the reaction to a general case as far as I know.

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