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Title: Pyrimidine  
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Subject: Purine, Cytosine, Thymine, Uracil, Nucleotide
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Pyrimidine molecule Pyrimidine molecule
CAS number  YesY
ChemSpider  YesY
Jmol-3D images Image 1
Molecular formula C4H4N2
Molar mass 80.088 g mol−1
Density 1.016 g cm−3
Melting point 20 to 22 °C (68 to 72 °F; 293 to 295 K)
Boiling point 123 to 124 °C (253 to 255 °F; 396 to 397 K)
Acidity (pKa) 1.10[1] (protonated pyrimidine)
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C (77 °F), 100 kPa)
 YesY   YesY/N?)

Pyrimidine is an aromatic heterocyclic organic compound similar to pyridine.[2] One of the three diazines (six-membered heterocyclics with two nitrogen atoms in the ring), it has the nitrogens at positions 1 and 3 in the ring.[3] The other diazines are pyrazine (nitrogens 1 and 4) and pyridazine (nitrogens 1 and 2). In nucleic acids, three types of nucleobases are pyrimidine derivatives: cytosine (C), thymine (T), and uracil (U).

Occurrence and history

Pinner's 1885 structure for pyrimidine

The pyrimidine ring system has wide occurrence in nature[4] as substituted and ring fused compounds and derivatives, including the nucleotides, thiamine (vitaminB1) and alloxan. It is also found in many synthetic compounds such as barbiturates and the HIV drug, zidovudine. Although pyrimidine derivatives such as uric acid and alloxan were known in the early 19th century, a laboratory synthesis of a pyrimidine was not carried out until 1879,[4] when Grimaux reported the preparation of barbituric acid from Ivy urea and malonic acid in the presence of phosphorus oxychloride.[5] The systematic study of pyrimidines began[6] in 1884 with Pinner,[7] who synthesized derivatives by condensing ethyl acetoacetate with amidines. Pinner first proposed the name “pyrimidin” in 1885.[8] The parent compound was first prepared by Gabriel & Colman in 1900,[9] [10] by conversion of barbituric acid to 2,4,6-trichloropyrimidine followed by reduction using zinc dust in hot water.


The nomenclature of pyrimidines is straightforward. However, like other heterocyclics, tautomeric hydroxyl groups yield complications since they exist primarily in the cyclic amide form. For example, 2-hydroxypyrimidine is more properly named 2-pyrimidone [structures]. A partial list of trivial names of various pyrimidines exists.[11]

Physical properties

Physical properties are shown in the data box. A more extensive discussion, including spectra, can be found in Brown et al.[12]

Chemical properties

Per the classification by Albert[13] six-membered heterocyclics can be described as π-deficient. Substitution by electronegative groups or additional nitrogen atoms in the ring significantly increase the π-deficiency. These effects also decrease the basicity.[14]

Like pyridines, in pyrimidines the π-electron density is decreased to an even greater extent. Therefore electrophilic aromatic substitution is more difficult while nucleophilic aromatic substitution is facilitated. An example of the last reaction type is the displacement of the amino group in 2-aminopyrimidine by chlorine[15] and its reverse.[16]

Electron lone pair availability (basicity) is decreased compared to pyridine. Compared to pyridine, N-alkylation and N-oxidation are more difficult. The pKa value for protonated pyrimidine is 1.23 compared to 5.30 for pyridine. Protonation and other electrophilic additions will occur at only one nitrogen due to further deactivation by the second nitrogen.[3] The 2-, 4-, and 6- positions on the pyrimidine ring are electron deficient analogous to those in pyridine and nitro- and dinitrobenzene. The 5-position is less electron deficient and substitutents there are quite stable. However, electrophilic substitution is relatively facile at the 5-position, including nitration and halogenation.[17]

Reduction in resonance stabilization of pyrimidines may lead to addition and ring cleavage reactions rather than substitutions. One such manifestation is observed in the Dimroth rearrangement.

Pyrimidine is also found in meteorites, but scientists still do not know its origin. Pyrimidine also photolytically decomposes into uracil under UV light.[18]


As is often the case with parent heterocyclic ring systems, the synthesis of pyrimidine is not that common and is usually performed by removing functional groups from derivatives. Primary syntheses in quantity involving formamide have been reported.[19]

As a class, pyrimidines are typically synthesized by the “Principal Synthesis” involving cyclization of beta-dicarbonyl compounds with N-C-N compounds. Reaction of the former with amidines to give 2-substituted pyrimidines, with urea to give 2-pyrimidiones, and guanidines to give 2-aminopyrimidines are typical.[20]

Pyrimidines can be prepared via the Biginelli reaction. Many other methods rely on condensation of carbonyls with diamines for instance the synthesis of 2-Thio-6-methyluracil from thiourea and ethyl acetoacetate [21] or the synthesis of 4-methylpyrimidine with 4,4-dimethoxy-2-butanone and formamide.[22]

A novel method is by reaction of certain amides with carbonitriles under electrophilic activation of the amide with 2-chloro-pyridine and trifluoromethanesulfonic anhydride:[23]

Pyrimidine Synthesis Movassaghi 2006


Because of the decreased basicity compared to pyridine, electrophilic substitution of pyrimidine is less facile. Protonation or alkylation typically takes place at only one of the ring nitrogen atoms. Mono N-oxidation occurs by reaction with peracids.[24]

Electrophilic C-substitution of pyrimidine occurs at the 5-position, the least electron deficient. Nitration, nitrosation, azo coupling, halogenation, sulfonation, formylation, hydroxymethylation, and aminomethylation have been observed with substituted pyrimidines.[25]

Nucleophilic C-substitution should be facilitated at the 2-, 4-, and 6-positions but there are only a few examples. Amination and hydroxylation has been observed for substituted pyrimidines. Reactions with Grignard or alkyllithium reagents yield 4-alkyl- or 4-aryl pyrimidine after aromatization.[26]

Free radical attack has been observed for pyrimidine and photochemical reactions have been observed for substituted pyrimidines.[27] Pyrimidine can be hydrogenated to give tetrahydropyrimidine.[28]


The pyrimidine nitrogen bases found in DNA and RNA.

Three nucleobases found in nucleic acids, cytosine (C), thymine (T), and uracil (U), are pyrimidine derivatives:

Chemical structure of cytosine
Chemical structure of thymine
Chemical structure of uracil
Cytosine (C)
Thymine (T)
Uracil (U)

In DNA and RNA, these bases form hydrogen bonds with their complementary purines. Thus, in DNA, the purines adenine (A) and guanine (G) pair up with the pyrimidines thymine (T) and cytosine (C), respectively.

In RNA, the complement of adenine (A) is uracil (U) instead of thymine (T), so the pairs that form are adenine:uracil and guanine:cytosine.

Very rarely, thymine can appear in RNA, or uracil in DNA. Other than the three major pyrimidine bases presented, some minor pyrimidine bases can also occur in nucleic acids. These minor pyrimidines are usually methylated versions of major ones and are postulated to have regulatory functions.[29]

These hydrogen bonding modes are for classical Watson-Crick base pairing. Other hydrogen bonding modes ("wobble pairings") are available in both DNA and RNA, although the additional 2'-hydroxyl group of RNA expands the configurations, through which RNA can form hydrogen bonds.

See also


  1. ^ Brown, H.C., et al., in Baude, E.A. and Nachod, F.C., Determination of Organic Structures by Physical Methods, Academic Press, New York, 1955.
  2. ^ Gilchrist, Thomas Lonsdale; Gilchrist, T. L. (1997). Heterocyclic chemistry. New York: Longman.  
  3. ^ a b Joule, John A.; Mills, Keith, eds. (2010). Heterocyclic Chemistry (5th ed.). Oxford: Wiley. p. 250.  
  4. ^ a b Lagoja, Irene M. (2007). "Pyrimidine as Constituent of Natural Biologically Active Compounds". Chemistry and Biodiversity 2 (1): 1–50.  
  5. ^ Grimaux, E. (1879). "Synthèse des dérivés uriques de la série de l'alloxane". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des Sciences 88: 85–87. 
  6. ^ Kenner, G.W.; Todd, Sir Alexander (1957). Elderfield, R.C., ed. Heterocyclic Compounds, Volume 6. New York: Wiley. p. 235. 
  7. ^  
  8. ^  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Lythgoe, B.; Rayner, L. S. (1951). "Substitution Reactions of Pyrimidine and its 2- and 4-Phenyl Derivatives".  
  11. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. (1994). The Pyrimidines. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 5–6.  
  12. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. (1994). The Pyrimidines. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 242–244.  
  13. ^ Albert, Adrien (1968). Heterocyclic Chemistry, an Introduction. London: Athlone Press. pp. 56–62. 
  14. ^ Albert, Adrien (1968). Heterocyclic Chemistry, an Introduction. London: Athlone Press. pp. 437–439. 
  15. ^ Organic Syntheses, Coll. Vol. 4, p.182 (1963); Vol. 35, p.34 (1955) Link
  16. ^ Organic Syntheses, Coll. Vol. 4, p.336 (1963); Vol. 35, p.58 (1955) Link
  17. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. (1994). The Pyrimidines. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 4–8.  
  18. ^ Nuevo M, Milam SN, Sandford SA, Elsila JE, Dworkin JP (2009). "Formation of uracil from the ultraviolet photo-irradiation of pyrimidine in pure H2O ices". Astrobiology 9 (7): 683–695.  
  19. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. (1994). The Pyrimidines. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 241–2.  
  20. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. (1994). The Pyrimidines. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 149–239.  
  21. ^ Organic Syntheses, Coll. Vol. 4, p.638 (1963); Vol. 35, p.80 (1955) Link
  22. ^ Organic Syntheses, Coll. Vol. 5, p.794 (1973); Vol. 43, p.77 (1963) Link
  23. ^ Single-Step Synthesis of Pyrimidine Derivatives Mohammad Movassaghi and Matthew D. Hill J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 2006; 128(44) pp 14254–14255; (Communication) doi:10.1021/ja066405m
  24. ^ Joule, John A.; Mills, Keith, eds. (2010). Heterocyclic Chemistry (5th ed.). Oxford: Wiley. pp. 253–4.  
  25. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. (1994). The Pyrimidines. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 9–13.  
  26. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. (1994). The Pyrimidines. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 14–15.  
  27. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. The Pyrimidines. pp. 15–16. 
  28. ^ Brown, D. J.; Evans, R.F.; Cowden, W. B.; Fenn, M. D. (1994). The Pyrimidines. New York: John Wiley & Sons. p. 17.  
  29. ^ Nelson David L. and Michael M. Cox. Principles of Biochemstry, ed. 5. W.H. Freeman and Company (2008) p. 272–274.
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