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Thiols are a class of organosulfur compounds that are sulfur analogs of alcohol containing a sulfhydryl (-SH) group. The thiols are also referred to as mercaptans, the name derived from latin mercurium captans, reflecting its strong propensity to capture mercury. Thiols generally have a strong smell and are used as an odorant to help detect natural gas leaks.
Thiols are used in the preparation of thioethers and thioesters. Thiols as ligands form metal thiolate complexes. Being a soft atom (HSAB theory), thiolate has a high affinity to bind to soft metal ions, like mercury and cadmium. The Thiol Michael addition has been extensively used to synthesize degradable polymers with wide-ranging biomedical applications. Cysteine is an important thiol-based amino acid. Olefin bearing thiols participate in thiol-ene reactions. Thiol-ene reactions, particularly the intermolecular reaction, is a fast growing field of research offering significant potential for the preparation of a broad range of sulfur bearing heterocycles including synthetic therapeutics such as cyclic peptides and thiosugars. As chiral auxiliaries, thiols find use as means of synthesizing enantiomerically enriched compounds.