Stimuli-responsive supramolecular assemblies of linear-dendritic copolymers

Elizabeth R. Gillies, Thomas B. Jonsson, Jean M.J. Fréchet*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

518 Scopus citations


With the goal of developing a pH-responsive micelle system, linear-dendritic block copolymers comprising poly(ethylene oxide) and either a polylysine or polyester dendron were prepared and hydrophobic groups were attached to the dendrimer periphery by highly acid-sensitive cyclic acetals. These copolymers were designed to form stable micelles in aqueous solution at neutral pH but to disintegrate into unimers at mildly acidic pH following loss of the hydrophobic groups upon acetal hydrolysis. Micelle formation was demonstrated by encapsulation of the fluorescent probe Nile Red, and the micelle sizes were determined by dynamic light scattering. The structure of the dendrimer block, its generation, and the synthetic method for linking the acetal groups to its periphery all had an influence on the critical micelle concentration and the micelle size. The rate of hydrolysis of the acetals at the micelle core was measured for each system at pH 7.4 and pH 5, and it was found that all systems were stable at neutral pH but underwent significant hydrolysis at pH 5 over several hours. The rate of hydrolysis at pH 5 was dependent on the structure of the copolymer, most notably the hydrophobicity of the core-forming block. To demonstrate the potential of these systems for controlled release, the release of Nile Red as a "model payload" was examined. At pH 7.4, the fluorescence of micelle-encapsulated Nile Red was relatively constant, indicating it was retained in the micelle, while at pH 5, the fluorescence decreased, consistent with its release into the aqueous environment. The rate of release was strongly correlated with the rate of acetal hydrolysis and was therefore controlled by the chemical structure of the copolymer. The mechanism of Nile Red release was investigated by monitoring the change in size of the micelles over time at acidic pH. Dynamic light scattering measurement showed a size decrease over time, eventually reaching the size of a unimer, thus providing evidence for the proposed micelle disintegration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11936-11943
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 29 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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