RAFT polymerization of temperature- and salt-responsive block copolymers as reversible hydrogels


Reversible-addition fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization enabled the synthesis of novel, stimuli-responsive, AB and ABA block copolymers. The B block contained oligo(ethylene glycol) methyl ether methacrylate (OEG) and was permanently hydrophilic in the conditions examined. The A block consisted of diethylene glycol methyl ether methacrylate (DEG) and [2-(methacryloyloxy)ethyl]trimethylammonium chloride (TMA). The A block displayed both salt- and temperature-response with lower critical solution temperatures (LCSTs) dependent on the molar content of TMA and the presence of salt. Higher TMA content in the AB diblock copolymers increased the critical micelle temperatures (CMT) in HPLC-grade water due to an increased hydrophilicity of the A block. Upon addition of 0.9 wt% NaCl, the CMTs of poly(OEG-b-DEG95TMA5) decreased from 50 °C to 36 °C due to screening of electrostatic repulsion between the TMA units. ABA triblock copolymers displayed excellent hydrogel properties with salt- and temperature-dependent gel points. TMA incorporation in the A block increased the gel points for all triblock copolymers, and salt-response increased with higher TMA composition in the A block. For example, poly(DEG98TMA2-b-OEG-b-DEG98TMA2) formed a hydrogel at 40 °C in HPLC-grade water and 26 °C in 0.9 wt% NaCl aqueous solution. These salt- and temperature-responsive AB diblock and ABA triblock copolymers find applications as drug delivery vehicles, adhesives, and hydrogels. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.