Revealing and tuning the core, structure, properties and function of polymer micelles with lanthanide-coordination complexes†
Controlling self-assembly processes is of great interest in various fields where multifunctional and tunable materials are designed. We here present the versatility of lanthanide-complex-based micelles (Ln-C3Ms) with tunable coordination structures and corresponding functions (e.g. luminescence and magnetic relaxation enhancement). Micelles are prepared by charge-driven self-assembly of a polycationic-neutral diblock copolymer and anionic coordination complexes formed by Ln(III) ions and the bis-ligand L2EO4, which contains two dipicolinic acid (DPA) ligand groups (L) connected by a tetra-ethylene oxide spacer (EO4). By varying the DPA/Ln ratio, micelles are obtained with similar size but with different stability, different aggregation numbers and different oligomeric and polymeric lanthanide(III) coordination structures in the core. Electron microscopy, light scattering, luminescence spectroscopy and magnetic resonance relaxation experiments provide an unprecedented detailed insight into the core structures of such micelles. Concomitantly, the self-assembly is controlled such that tunable luminescence or magnetic relaxation with Eu-C3Ms, respectively, Gd-C3Ms is achieved, showing potential for applications, e.g. as contrast agents in (pre)clinical imaging. Considering the various lanthanide(III) ions have unique electron configurations with specific physical chemical properties, yet very similar coordination chemistry, the generality of the current coordination-structure based micellar design shows great promise for development of new materials such as, e.g., hypermodal agents.