For example, of a mechanism of alpha cleavage, an electron is knocked off an atom (usually by electron collision) to form a radical cation. Electron removal generally happens in the following order: 1) lone pair electrons, 2) pi bond electrons, 3) sigma bond electrons.
One of the lone pair electrons moves down to form a pi bond with an electron from an adjacent (alpha) bond. The other electron from the bond moves to an adjacent atom (not one adjacent to the lone pair atom) creating a radical. This creates a double bond adjacent to the lone pair atom (oxygen is a good example) and breaks/cleaves the bond from which the two electrons were removed.
In molecules containing carbonyl groups, alpha cleavage often competes with McLafferty rearrangement.
- Hathaway, Bruce A. (2005). Organic chemistry the easy way. Woodbury, N.Y: Barron's Educational Series. p. 315. ISBN 0-7641-2794-2.
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