Macromolecular engineering is one of the most powerful tools to control the molecular parameters, including architecture of polymers, and to improve their performances or to impart them new properties.
This contribution aims at reporting on a novel strategy for the macromolecular engineering of poly-ε-caprolactone (PCL) which is based on the use of functional ε-caprolactone, the α-chloro-ε-caprolactone (αClεCL). Indeed, αClεCL is a precursor of polymers and copolymers with εCL that bear pendant activated chlorides well suited to “grafting from” reaction. These (co)polyesters have been used as macroinitiators for the Atom Transfer Radical Polymerization (ATRP) of methyl methacrylate leading to the corresponding graft copolymer. They have also been involved in an Atom Transfer Radical Addition (ATRA) reaction with a series of olefins bearing different functional groups (hydroxyl, carboxylic acid and epoxy group) in order to functionalize the polyester backbone without deleterious degradation. ATRA of PEO chains with an unsaturation end groups has also been carried out in order to prepare PCL-g-PEO of different compositions to be used as stabilizers of polyester nanoparticles.
Combination of ring-opening polymerization of ε-caprolactone and the copper-catalyzed Huisgen’s [3+2] cycloaddition is a novel strategy for going a step further in the macromolecular engineering of poly-ε-caprolactone (PCL). This ‘click” reaction is very well-suited to the chemical modification of aliphatic polyesters because, its implementation under very mild conditions prevents chain degradation from occurring. Indeed, alkynes were cycloadded onto azide containing PCL at low temperature (35°C) in an organic solvent (DMF or THF). Originally, α-chloro-ε-caprolactone and ε-caprolactone were randomly copolymerized in toluene at room temperature followed by reaction of the activated chlorides with sodium azide.
In order to make a wide range of functional aliphatic polyesters available, poly(α-azide-ε-caprolactone-co-ε-caprolactone) copolyesters were reacted with a series of alkynes substituted by a functional group, e.g., hydroxyl, acrylate and quaternary ammonium salts, This strategy turned out to be efficient to synthesize for instance hydrophilic, photo-cross-linkable and hydrosoluble PCL. Moreover, a variety of graft copolymers were prepared by both the “grafting from” and the “grafting onto” techniques. Indeed, an ATRP initiator was attached onto PCL followed by polymerization of vinyl monomers, whereas alkyne end–capped PEO was cycloadded onto azide-containing PCL with formation of amphiphilic PCL-g-PEO copolymers.
Last but not least, the “click” chemistry was very instrumental in imparting an antimicrobial activity to PCL or for the preparation of new functionalized caprolactones.