Poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) and poly(acrylic acid) (PAA), two polymers known to form pH-sensitive aggregates through noncovalent interactions, were assembled in purposely designed architecture -a dendrimer-like PEO scaffold carrying short inner PAA chains-to produce unimolecular systems that exhibit pH responsiveness. Because of the particular placement of the PAA chains within the dendrimer-like structure, intermolecular complexation between acrylic acid (AA) and ethylene oxide (EO) units-and thus macroscopic aggregation or even mesoscopic micellization-could be avoided in favor of the sole intramolecular complexation. The sensitivity of such interactions to pH was exploited to generate dendrimer-like PEOs that reversibly shrink and expand with the pH. Such PAA-carrying dendrimer-like PEOs were synthesized in two main steps. First, a fifth-generation dendrimer-like PEO was obtained by combining anionic ring-opening polymerization (AROP) of ethylene oxide from a tris-hydroxylated core and selective branching reactions of PEO chain ends. To this end, an AB2C-type branching agent was designed: the latter includes a chloromethyl (A) group for its covalent attachment to the arm ends, two geminal hydroxyls (B2) protected in the form of a ketal ring for the growth of subsequent PEO generations by AROP, and a vinylic (C) double bonds for further functionalization of the interior of dendrimer-like PEOs. Reiteration of AROP and derivatization of PEO branches allowed us to prepare a dendrimer-like PEO of fourth generation with a total molar mass of 52,000 g·mol -1, containing 24 external hydroxyl functions and 21 inner vinylic groups in the interior. A fifth generation of PEO chains was generated from this parent dendrimer-like PEO of fourth generation using a "conventional" AB2-type branching agent, and 48 PEO branches could be grown by AROP. The 48 outer hydroxy-end groups of the fifth-generation dendrimer-like PEO obtained were subsequently quantitatively converted into inert benzylic groups using benzyl bromide. The 21 internal vinylic groups carried by the PEO scaffold were then chemically modified in a two-step sequence into bromoester groups. The latter which are atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) initiating sites thus served to grow poly(tert-butylacrylate) chains. After a final step of hydrolysis of the tert-butyl ester groups, double, hydrophilic, dendrimer-like PEOs comprising 21 internal junction-attached poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) blocks could be obtained. Dynamic light scattering was used to determine the size of these dendrimer-like species in water and to investigate their response to pH variation: in particular, how the pH-sensitive complexation of EO and AA units affects their overall behavior.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry