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Expanding the Thiol-X Toolbox: Photoinitiation and Materials Application of the Acid-Catalyzed Thiol-ene (ACT) Reaction


The acid-catalyzed thiol-ene reaction (ACT) is a unique thiol-X conjugation strategy that produces S,X-acetal conjugates. Unlike the well-known radical-mediated thiol-ene and anion-mediated thiol-Michael reactions that produce static thioether bonds, acetals provide unique function for various fields such as drug delivery and protecting group chemistries; however, this reaction is relatively underutilized for creating new and unique materials owing to the unexplored reactivity over a broad set of substrates and potential side reactions. Solution-phase studies using a range of thiol and alkene substrates were conducted to evaluate the ACT reaction as a conjugation strategy. Substrates that efficiently undergo cationic polymerizations, such as those containing vinyl functional groups, were found to be highly reactive to thiols in the presence of catalytic amounts of acid. Additionally, sequential initiation of three separate thiol-X reactions (thiol-Michael, ACT, and thiol-ene) was achieved in a one-pot scheme simply by the addition of the appropriate catalyst demonstrating substrate selectivity. Furthermore, photoinitiation of the ACT reaction was achieved for the first time under 470 nm blue light using a novel photochromic photoacid. Finally, using multifunctional monomers, solid-state polymer networks were formed using the ACT reaction producing acetal crosslinks. The presence of S,X-acetal bonds results in an increased glass transition temperature of 20 °C as compared with the same polymeric film polymerized through the radical thiol-ene mechanism. This investigation demonstrates the broad impact of the ACT reaction and expands upon the diverse thiol-X library of conjugation strategies towards the development of novel materials systems.

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Article information

18 Nov 2020
12 Jan 2021
First published
13 Jan 2021

Polym. Chem., 2021, Accepted Manuscript
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Expanding the Thiol-X Toolbox: Photoinitiation and Materials Application of the Acid-Catalyzed Thiol-ene (ACT) Reaction

B. P. Sutherland, M. Kabra and C. Kloxin, Polym. Chem., 2021, Accepted Manuscript , DOI: 10.1039/D0PY01593H

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