Two strategies for introducing disulfide groups at the outer surface of RAFT-synthesized poly(glycerol monomethacrylate)-poly(2-hydroxypropyl methacrylate) (PGMA PHPMA, or G(x)-H-y for brevity) diblock copolymer worms are investigated. The first approach involved statistical copolymerization of GMA with a small amount of disulfide dimethacrylate (DSDMA, or D) comonomer to afford a G(54)-D-0.50 macromolecular chain transfer agent (macro-CTA); this synthesis was conducted in relatively dilute solution in order to ensure mainly intramolecular cyclization and hence the formation of linear chains. Alternatively, a new disulfide-based bifunctional RAFT agent (DSDB) was used to prepare a G(45)-S-S-G(45) (or (G(45)-S)(2)) macro-CTA. A binary mixture of a non-functionalized G(55) macro-CTA was utilized with each of these two disulfide-based macro-CTAs in turn for the RAFT aqueous dispersion polymerization of 2-hydroxypropyl methacrylate (HPMA). By targeting a PHPMA DP of 130 and systematically varying the molar ratio of the two macro-CTAs, a series of disulfide-functionalized diblock copolymer worm gels were obtained. For both formulations, oscillatory rheology studies confirmed that higher disulfide contents led to stronger gels, presumably as a result of inter-worm covalent bond formation via disulfide/thiol exchange. Using the DSDB-based macro-CTA led to the strongest worm gels, and this formulation also proved to be more effective in suppressing the thermosensitive behavior that is observed for the nondisulfide-functionalized control worm gel. However, macroscopic precipitation occurred when the proportion of DSDB-based macro-CTA was increased to SO mol %, whereas the DSDMA-based macro-CTA could be utilized at up to 80 mol %. Finally, the worm gel modulus could be reduced to that of a nondisulfide-containing worm gel by reductive cleavage of the inter-worm disulfide bonds using excess tris(2-carboxyethyl)phosphine (TCEP) to yield thiol groups. These new biomimetic worm gels are expected to exhibit enhanced muco-adhesion.
- Polymerization induced self-assembly