My research project
Radical ring-opening polymerization is a clever strategy to incorporate cleavable linkages into otherwise non-degradable vinyl polymers. But conventional systems suffer from slow copolymerization, harsh non-selective degradation conditions, and limited application potential because the degradation products (often oligomers or polymers themselves) have properties like the intact species. This work presents fast selective degradation accompanied by a drastic change in a key property, aqueous solubility. The thionolactone dibenzo[c,e]oxepane-5-thione was found to copolymerise radically with a range of primary, secondary, and tertiary neutral and zwitterionic acrylamides with rapid incorporation of degradable biphenyl thiocarboxylate repeat units. Intact copolymers displayed temperature-responsive (LCST or UCST-type) aqueous solubility behaviour, tuneable through the molar composition and (exploiting the non-azeotropic copolymerization behaviour) comonomer sequence. Various conditions led to selective and complete degradation of the backbone thioesters through hydrolysis, aminolysis, transthioesterification (including under physiological conditions), and oxidative hydrolysis which drastically increased aqueous solubility. Polymers containing as little as 8 mol-% of thioester repeat units underwent a temperature-independent insoluble–soluble transition upon degradation with cysteine or potassium persulfate. Insoluble polymers were used to block syringe filters which allowed flow of degradant solutions only, relevant relevant to lab-on-a-chip, sensing, and embolic biomedical applications.
Being nondegradable, vinyl polymers have limited biomedical applicability. Unfortunately, backbone esters incorporated through conventional radical ring-opening methods do not undergo appreciable abiotic hydrolysis under physiologically relevant conditions. Here, PEG acrylate and di(ethylene glycol) acrylamide-based copolymers containing backbone thioesters were prepared through the radical ring-opening copolymerization of the thionolactone dibenzo[c,e]oxepin-5(7 )-thione. The thioesters degraded fully in the presence of 10 mM cysteine at pH 7.4, with the mechanism presumed to involve an irreversible S-N switch. Degradations with -acetylcysteine and glutathione were reversible through the thiol-thioester exchange polycondensation of R-SC(═O)-polymer-SH fragments with full degradation relying on an increased thiolate/thioester ratio. Treatment with 10 mM glutathione at pH 7.2 (mimicking intracellular conditions) triggered an insoluble-soluble switch of a temperature-responsive copolymer at 37 °C and the release of encapsulated Nile Red (as a drug model) from core-degradable diblock copolymer micelles. Copolymers and their cysteinolytic degradation products were found to be noncytotoxic, making thioester backbone-functional polymers promising for drug delivery applications.
Polymers with tailored architectures and degradability were prepared through thiocarbonyl addition ring-opening (TARO) atom-transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) using dibenzo[c,e]oxepin-5(7H)-thione (DOT), Cu(I)Br, and tris[2-(dimethylamino)ethyl]amine (Me6TREN) as the thionolactone, catalyst, and ligand, respectively, in combination with a selection of acrylic comonomers. Although copolymers with selectively degradable backbone thioesters and low dispersities (1.10 ≤ D̵ ≤ 1.26) were achieved using DMSO, acetonitrile, or toluene as the solvent, the Cu(I)-catalyzed dethionation of DOT to its (oxo)lactone analogue limited the achievable copolymer DOT content. Using anhydrous polymerization conditions minimized the side reaction and provided degradable copolymers with a higher (≤32 mol %) thioester content. Water-soluble molecular brushes were prepared by grafting poly(ethylene glycol) methyl ether acrylate–DOT copolymers from a pre-made multi-ATRP initiator. Due to copolymerization kinetics, the thioesters were installed close to the junctions and enabled the fast (
We report the preparation of degradable polymer networks by conventional free radical copolymerization of n-butyl acrylate with a crosslinker (1 mol %) and dibenzo[c,e]oxepane-5-thione (DOT) as a strand-cleaving comonomer. Addition of only 4 mol % of DOT imparts the synthesized networks with full degradability by aminolysis, whereas gels with less DOT (2–3 mol %) cannot be degraded. This data confirms the recently proposed reverse gel-point model for networks prepared by free radical polymerization and demonstrates the importance of considering copolymerization kinetics when designing fully degradable gels. Notably, even though DOT significantly slows down the polymerization and delays gelation, it has a minimal effect on physical properties of the networks such as shear storage modulus, equilibrium swelling ratio, glass transition temperature, or thermal stability.