Polymers with advanced architectures can now be readily and reproducibly synthesized using controlled living polymerization. These materials are attractive as potential drug carriers due to their tunable size, versatile methods of drug incorporation and release, and ease of functionalization with targeting ligands. In this work, we report the design and development of macrocyclic brush or “sunflower” polymers, synthesized by controlled radical polymerization of hydrophilic “petals” from a cyclic multimacroinitiator “core”. These nanostructures can be synthesized with low polydispersity and controlled sizes depending on polymerization time. We further demonstrate that folate-functionalized sunflower polymers facilitate receptor-mediated uptake into cancer cells. These materials therefore show potential as drug carriers for anticancer therapies.
Functional and Responsive Materials
1,2-Oxazine Linker as a Thermal Trigger for Self-Immolative Polymers
We have demonstrated the site-specific thermal activation of self-immolative polymers (SIPs) using a bicyclic oxazine as a temperature-sensitive triggering moiety. The oxazine-based trigger was installed at the junction of a SIP-poly(N,N-dimethylacrylamide) (PDMA) diblock copolymer via oxidation of hydroxyurea end groups on the SIP and in situ [4 + 2] cycloaddition with cyclopentadiene-functionalized PDMA. The trigger undergoes a thermally-driven cycloreversion which ultimately leads to initiation of the depolymerization process. The temperature dependence of activation and depolymerization were investigated, along with the mechanism of activation. The relative rates of depolymerization at different temperatures suggested to us that the thermal trigger design may be a good candidate for on-demand activation of SIPs with minimal background triggering.
Controlled Depolymerization: Stimuli-Responsive Self-Immolative Polymers
Self-immolative polymers (SIPs) are unique macromolecules that are able to react to multiple types of environmental influences by giving amplified response outputs. When triggering moieties installed at SIP chain ends are activated by their corresponding stimuli, a spontaneous head-to-tail depolymerization ensues, often involving multitopic release of small molecules. SIP designs have evolved a high degree of modularity in each of their functional components, enabling a broad range of utility and applications-driven tuning. In this Perspective, we summarize and discuss recent progress in this nascent area of research, including (i) synthesis of different types of SIPs, (ii) design and evaluation of triggering moieties, (iii) depolymerization mechanisms and kinetics, (iv) applications of SIPs, and (v) outlook and challenges facing the field.