Synthesis and characterization of poly(amino acid methacrylate)-stabilized diblock copolymer nano-objects†
Amino acids constitute one of Nature's most important building blocks. Their remarkably diverse properties (hydrophobic/hydrophilic character, charge density, chirality, reversible cross-linking etc.) dictate the structure and function of proteins. The synthesis of artificial peptides and proteins comprising main chain amino acids is of particular importance for nanomedicine. However, synthetic polymers bearing amino acid side-chains are more readily prepared and may offer desirable properties for various biomedical applications. Herein we describe an efficient route for the synthesis of poly(amino acid methacrylate)stabilized diblock copolymer nano-objects. First, either cysteine or glutathione is reacted with a commercially available methacrylate-acrylate adduct to produce the corresponding amino acid-based methacrylic monomer (CysMA or GSHMA). Well-defined water-soluble macromolecular chain transfer agents (PCysMA or PGSHMA macro-CTAs) are then prepared via RAFT polymerization, which are then chain-extended via aqueous RAFT dispersion polymerization of 2-hydroxypropyl methacrylate. In situ polymerization-induced self-assembly (PISA) occurs to produce sterically-stabilized diblock copolymer nano-objects. Although only spherical nanoparticles could be obtained when PGSHMA was used as the sole macro-CTA, either spheres, worms or vesicles can be prepared using either PCysMA macro-CTA alone or binary mixtures of poly(glycerol monomethacrylate) (PGMA) with either PCysMA or PGSHMA macro-CTAs. The worms formed soft free-standing thermo-responsive gels that undergo degelation on cooling as a result of a worm-to-sphere transition. Aqueous electrophoresis studies indicate that all three copolymer morphologies exhibit cationic character below pH 3.5 and anionic character above pH 3.5. This pH sensitivity corresponds to the known behavior of the poly(amino acid methacrylate) steric stabilizer chains.