Orthogonal self-assembly in folding block copolymers

N. Hosono, M.A.J. Gillissen, Yuanchao Li, S.S. Sheiko, A.R.A. Palmans, E.W. Meijer

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169 Citations (Scopus)
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We herein report the synthesis and characterization of ABA triblock copolymers that contain two complementary association motifs and fold into single-chain polymeric nanoparticles (SCPNs) via orthogonal self-assembly. The copolymers were prepared using atom-transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) and possess different pendant functional groups in the A and B blocks (alcohols in the A block and acetylenes in the B block). After postfunctionalization, the A block contains o-nitrobenzyl-protected 2-ureidopyrimidinone (UPy) moieties and the B block benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide (BTA) moieties. While the protected UPy groups dimerize after photoinduced deprotection of the o-nitrobenzyl group, the BTA moieties self-assemble into helical aggregates when temperature is reduced. In a two-step thermal/photoirradiation treatment under dilute conditions, the ABA block copolymer forms both BTA-based helical aggregates and UPy dimers intramolecularly. The sequential association of the two self-assembling motifs results in single-chain folding of the polymer, affording nanometer-sized particles with a compartmentalized interior. Variable-temperature NMR studies showed that the BTA and UPy self-assembly steps take place orthogonally (i.e., without mutual interference) in dilute solution. In addition, monitoring of the intramolecular self-assembly of BTA moieties into helical aggregates by circular dichroism spectroscopy showed that the stability of the aggregates is almost independent of UPy dimerization. Size-exclusion chromatography (SEC) and small-angle X-ray scattering analysis provided evidence of significant reductions in the hydrodynamic volume and radius of gyration, respectively, after photoinduced deprotection of the UPy groups; a 30–60% reduction in the size of the polymer chains was observed using SEC in CHCl3. Molecular imaging by atomic force microscopy (AFM) corroborated significant contraction of individual polymer chains due to intramolecular association of the BTA and UPy groups. The stepwise folding process resulting from orthogonal self-assembly-induced supramolecular interactions yields compartmentalized SCPNs comprised of distinct microdomains that mimick two secondary-structuring elements in proteins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-510
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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