Ring Opening Copolymerization of Boron-Containing Anhydride with Epoxides as a Controlled Platform to Functional Polyesters

13 June 2023


Fernando Vidal, Sevven Smith, and Charlotte K. Williams Journal of the American Chemical Society Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/jacs.3c03261

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Boron-functionalized polymers are used in opto-electronics, biology, and medicine. Methods to produce boron-functionalized and degradable polyesters remain exceedingly rare but relevant where (bio)dissipation is required, for example, in self-assembled nanostructures, dynamic polymer networks, and bio-imaging. Here, a boronic ester-phthalic anhydride and various epoxides (cyclohexene oxide, vinyl-cyclohexene oxide, propene oxide, allyl glycidyl ether) undergo controlled ring-opening copolymerization (ROCOP), catalyzed by organometallic complexes [Zn(II)Mg(II) or Al(III)K(I)] or a phosphazene organobase. The polymerizations are well controlled allowing for the modulation of the polyester structures (e.g., by epoxide selection, AB, or ABA blocks), molar masses (9.4 < Mn < 40 kg/mol), and uptake of boron functionalities (esters, acids, “ates”, boroxines, and fluorescent groups) in the polymer. The boronic ester-functionalized polymers are amorphous, with high glass transition temperatures (81 < Tg < 224 °C) and good thermal stability (285 < Td < 322 °C). The boronic ester-polyesters are deprotected to yield boronic acid- and borate-polyesters; the ionic polymers are water soluble and degradable under alkaline conditions. Using a hydrophilic macro-initiator in alternating epoxide/anhydride ROCOP, and lactone ring opening polymerization, produces amphiphilic AB and ABC copolyesters. Alternatively, the boron-functionalities are subjected to Pd(II)-catalyzed cross-couplings to install fluorescent groups (BODIPY). The utility of this new monomer as a platform to construct specialized polyesters materials is exemplified here in the synthesis of fluorescent spherical nanoparticles that self-assemble in water (Dh = 40 nm). The selective copolymerization, variable structural composition, and adjustable boron loading represent a versatile technology for future explorations of degradable, well-defined, and functional polymers.