Reductive amination is a means of converting an aldehyde or a ketone into an amine. The reaction begins with nucleophilic addition of ammonia or an amine to the carbonyl group of an aldehyde or a ketone. The imine or enamine derivative formed is subsequently reduced by hydrogen to form the amine product. If the nucleophile is ammonia, a primary amine will be formed in reductive amination. If the nucleophile is a primary amine, the product will be a secondary amine. With a secondary amine nucleophile, a tertiary amine product will be obtained. Recall that the nucleophilic addition of ammonia or primary amine results in imine formation and addition of a secondary amine to an aldehyde or ketone results in enamine formation. Both are ultimately reduced to form amines in reductive amination.
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