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Langmuir. 2009 Apr 21;25(8):4724-34. doi: 10.1021/la803813r.

pH-responsive supramolecular self-assembly of well-defined zwitterionic ABC miktoarm star terpolymers.

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  • 1CAS Key Laboratory of Soft Matter Chemistry, Department of Polymer Science and Engineering, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui 230026, China.


We report the first example of the synthesis and pH-responsive supramolecular self-assembly of double hydrophilic ABC miktoarm star terpolymers. Well-defined ABC miktoarm star terpolymers consisting of poly(ethylene glycol), poly(tert-butyl methacrylate), and poly(2-(diethylamino)ethyl methacrylate) arms [PEG(-b-PtBMA)-b-PDEA] were synthesized via the combination of consecutive click reactions and atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP), starting from a trifunctional core molecule, 1-azido-3-chloro-2-propanol (ACP). The click reaction of monoalkynyl-terminated PEG with an excess of ACP afforded difunctional PEG bearing a chlorine and a secondary hydroxyl moiety at the chain end, PEG113(-Cl)-OH (1). After azidation with NaN3, PEG-based macroinitiator PEG113(-N3)-Br (3) was prepared by the esterification of PEG113(-N3)-OH (2) with 2-bromoisobutyryl bromide and then employed in the ATRP of tert-butyl methacrylate (tBMA). The obtained PEG(-N3)-b-PtBMA copolymers (4) possessed an azido moiety at the diblock junction point. The preparation of PEG(-b-PtBMA)-b-PDEA miktoarm star terpolymers was then achieved via the click reaction of 4 with an excess of monoalkynyl-terminated PDEA. The obtained miktoarm star terpolymers were successfully converted into PEG(-b-PMAA)-b-PDEA, where PMAA is poly(methacrylic acid). In aqueous solution, PEG(-b-PMAA)-b-PDEA zwitterionic ABC miktoarm star terpolymers can self-assemble into three types of micellar aggregates by simply adjusting solution pH at room temperature. Above pH 8, PDEA-core micelles stabilized by PEG/ionized PMAA hybrid coronas were formed due to the insolubility of PDEA block. In the range of pH 5-7, micelles possessing polyion complex cores formed as a result of charge compensation between partially ionized PMAA and partially protonated PDEA sequences. At pH<4, hydrogen bonding interactions between fully protonated PMAA and PEG led to the formation of another type of micellar aggregates possessing hydrogen-bonded complex cores stabilized by protonated PDEA coronas. The fully reversible pH-responsive formation of three types of aggregates were characterized by 1H NMR, dynamic and static laser light scattering (LLS), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM).

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