Oximes and Hydrazones in Bioconjugation: Mechanism and Catalysis

Chem Rev. 2017 Aug 9;117(15):10358-10376. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.7b00090. Epub 2017 Jun 22.


The formation of oximes and hydrazones is employed in numerous scientific fields as a simple and versatile conjugation strategy. This imine-forming reaction is applied in fields as diverse as polymer chemistry, biomaterials and hydrogels, dynamic combinatorial chemistry, organic synthesis, and chemical biology. Here we outline chemical developments in this field, with special focus on the past ∼10 years of developments. Recent strategies for installing reactive carbonyl groups and α-nucleophiles into biomolecules are described. The basic chemical properties of reactants and products in this reaction are then reviewed, with an eye to understanding the reaction's mechanism and how reactant structure controls rates and equilibria in the process. Recent work that has uncovered structural features and new mechanisms for speeding the reaction, sometimes by orders of magnitude, is discussed. We describe recent studies that have identified especially fast reacting aldehyde/ketone substrates and structural effects that lead to rapid-reacting α-nucleophiles as well. Among the most effective new strategies has been the development of substituents near the reactive aldehyde group that either transfer protons at the transition state or trap the initially formed tetrahedral intermediates. In addition, the recent development of efficient nucleophilic catalysts for the reaction is outlined, improving greatly upon aniline, the classical catalyst for imine formation. A number of uses of such second- and third-generation catalysts in bioconjugation and in cellular applications are highlighted. While formation of hydrazone and oxime has been traditionally regarded as being limited by slow rates, developments in the past 5 years have resulted in completely overturning this limitation; indeed, the reaction is now one of the fastest and most versatile reactions available for conjugations of biomolecules and biomaterials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biocompatible Materials / chemical synthesis*
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry*
  • Catalysis
  • Hydrazones / chemistry*
  • Imines / chemical synthesis
  • Imines / chemistry
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oximes / chemistry*


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Hydrazones
  • Imines
  • Oximes