Published: 25 August 2020
Dithiolanes are used to obtain dynamic and reversible crosslinks between polymer chains. Copolymers of two different dithiolane-containing cyclic carbonate monomers and ε-caprolactone (CL) were synthesized by ring-opening polymerization using a methoxy-poly(ethylene glycol) (mPEG) initiator and different catalysts (diphenyl phosphate (DPP), methanesulfonic acid (MSA), 1,5,7-triazabicyclo[4.4.0]dec-5-ene (TBD), or Sn(Oct)2). Each catalyst required a different temperature, which had a pronounced influence on the reactivity ratio of the monomers and occurrence of transesterification reactions and, therefore, the monomer sequence. Self-crosslinkable copolymers were obtained when the dithiolane units were connected closely to the polymer backbone, whereas the presence of a linker unit between the dithiolane and the backbone prevented self-crosslinking. The former amphiphilic PEGylated block copolymers formed micelles by nanoprecipitation in the aqueous environment and crosslinked spontaneously by disulfide exchange during subsequent dialysis. These dithiolane-crosslinked micelles showed reduction-responsive dissociation in the presence of 10 mM glutathione, making them promising drug delivery systems for the intracellularly triggered cargo release.
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