Supramolecular materials based on the self-assembly of benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide (BTA) offer an approach to mimic fibrous self-assembled proteins found in numerous natural systems. Yet, synthetic methods to rapidly build complexity, scalability, and multifunctionality into BTA-based materials are needed. The diversity of BTA structures is often hampered by the limited flexibility of existing desymmetrization routes and the purification of multifunctional BTAs. To alleviate this bottleneck, we have developed a desymmetrization method based on activated ester coupling of a symmetric synthon. We created a small library of activated ester synthons and found that a pentafluorophenol benzene triester (BTE) enabled effective desymmetrization and creation of multifunctional BTAs in good yield with high reaction fidelity. This new methodology enabled the rapid synthesis of a small library of BTA monomers with hydrophobic and/or orthogonal reactive handles and could be extended to create polymeric BTA hydrogelators. These BTA hydrogelators self-assembled in water to create fiber and fibrous sheet-like structures as observed by cryo-TEM, and the identity of the BTA conjugated can tune the mechanical properties of the hydrogel. These hydrogelators display high cytocompatibility for chondrocytes, indicating potential for the use of these systems in 3D cell culture and tissue engineering applications. This newly developed synthetic strategy facilitates the simple and rapid creation of chemically diverse BTA supramolecular polymers, and the newly developed and scalable hydrogels can unlock exploration of BTA based materials in a wider variety of tissue engineering applications.
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