Polyglyoxylates: A versatile class of triggerable self-immolative polymers from readily accessible monomers

Bo Fan, The University of Western Ontario
John F. Trant, The University of Western Ontario
Andrew D. Wong, The University of Western Ontario
Elizabeth R. Gillies, The University of Western Ontario


Self-immolative polymers, which degrade by an end-to-end depolymerization mechanism in response to the cleavage of a stabilizing end-cap from the polymer terminus, are of increasing interest for a wide variety of applications ranging from sensors to controlled release. However, the preparation of these materials often requires expensive, multistep monomer syntheses, and the degradation products such as quinone methides or phthalaldehydes are potentially toxic to humans and the environment. We demonstrate here that polyglyxoylates can serve as a new and versatile class of self-immolative polymers. Polymerization of the commercially available monomer ethyl glyoxylate, followed by end-capping with a 6-nitroveratryl carbonate, provides a poly(ethyl glyoxylate) that depolymerizes selectively upon irradiation with UV light, ultimately generating ethanol and the metabolic intermediate glyoxylic acid hydrate. To access polyglyoxylates with different properties, the polymerization and end-capping approach can also be extended to other glyoxylate monomers including methyl glyoxylate, n-butyl glyoxylate, and benzyl glyoxylate, which can be easily prepared from their corresponding fumaric or maleic acid derivatives. Random copolymers of these monomers with ethyl glyoxylate can also be prepared. Furthermore, using a multifunctional end-cap that is UV-responsive and also enables the conjugation of another polymer block via an azide-alkyne "click" cycloaddition, amphiphilic self-immolative block copolymers are also prepared. These block copolymers self-assemble into micelles in aqueous solution, and their poly(ethyl glyoxylate) blocks rapidly depolymerize upon UV irradiation. Overall, these strategies are expected to greatly expand the utility of self-immolative polymers by providing access for the first time to self-immolative polymers with tunable properties that can be readily obtained from simple monomers and can be designed to depolymerize into nontoxic products. © 2014 American Chemical Society.