In the reaction mechanism for this reaction the diazo compound is a 1,3-dipole which reacts with the thioketone in a 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition to a thiadiazoline. This intermediate is unstable and through nitrogen gas expulsion and formation of an intermediate thiocarbonyl ylide it forms a stable episulfide. Triphenylphosphine opens the three-membered ring and then forms a sulfaphosphatane in a manner similar to the Wittig reaction. In the final step triphenylphosphinesulfoxide is expulsed liberating the alkene.
The diazo compound can be obtained from a ketone by reaction with hydrazine to a hydrazone followed by oxidation. Many reagents exist for this conversion for example silver(I) oxide and (bis(trifluoroacetoxy)iodo)benzene. The thioketone required for this reaction can be obtained from a ketone and phosphorus pentasulfide. Desulfurization of the episulfide can be accomplished by many phosphines and also by copper powder.
The main advantage of this reaction over the McMurry reaction is the notion that the reaction can take place with two different ketones. In this regard the diazo-thioketone coupling is a cross-coupling rather than a homocoupling.
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