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1,3 dithianes are used in umpolung reactions and can be deprotected by mercury containing compounds - but could anyone help explain what the exact mechanism is? Many texts seem to skim over this by explaining it is similar to acetal hydrolysis, but I'd really like a more detailed explanation as to the role of the compounds. A reaction I have seen involves $\ce{HgO}$, $\ce{HgCl2}$, $\ce{CH3CN}$ and $\ce{H2O}$. If it is similar to acetal hydrolysis, the $\ce{H2O}$ is probably to complete the final step of attacking the $\ce{S=H}$ bond, but what about the initial step?

I am assuming one sulfur atom forms a bond to the $\ce{Hg}$, but which Hg compound would it be in this case, the $\ce{HgO}$ or the $\ce{HgCl2}$? What is the role of the $\ce{CH3CN}$ in this case? Thanks!

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$\ce{Hg^2+}$ has a high affintity to thiols and other sulfur functional groups, and therefore $\ce{HgCl2}$ forms a Lewis acid-base adduct with the dithiane. The cyclic sulfonium cation undergoes ring opening, and after nucleophilic attack by water, a second Hg-S bond under ring closure is formed. Deprotonation finally yields the deprotected carbonyl compund and the cyclic mercury dithiolate.

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Ok, I'm speculating a bit here: The mixture of acetonitrile and water is probably just used to keep all components in solution. HgO serves as an oxidant; alone it might be able to convert the 1,3-dithiane to the corresponding 1-oxide, which doesn't necessarily results in its cleavage. $\ce{ Hg^{2+}}$ on the other hand has a high affinity to (di)thiols.

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