Universal concept for the implementation of a single cleavable unit at tunable position in functional poly(ethylene glycol)s.

PMID 23256621


Poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) with acid-sensitive moieties gained attention particularly for various biomedical applications, such as the covalent attachment of PEG (PEGylation) to protein therapeutics, the synthesis of stealth liposomes, and polymeric carriers for low-molecular-weight drugs. Cleavable PEGs are favored over their inert analogues because of superior pharmacodynamic and/or pharmacokinetic properties of their formulations. However, synthetic routes to acetal-containing PEGs published up to date either require enormous efforts or result in ill-defined materials with a lack of control over the molecular weight. Herein, we describe a novel methodology to implement a single acetaldehyde acetal in well-defined (hetero)functional poly(ethylene glycol)s with total control over its position. To underline its general applicability, a diverse set of initiators for the anionic polymerization of ethylene oxide (cholesterol, dibenzylamino ethanol, and poly(ethylene glycol) monomethyl ether (mPEG)) was modified and used to synthesize the analogous labile PEGs. The polyether bearing the cleavable lipid had a degree of polymerization of 46, was amphiphilic and exhibited a critical micelle concentration of 4.20 mg·L(-1). From dibenzylamino ethanol, three heterofunctional PEGs with different molecular weights and labile amino termini were generated. The transformation of the amino functionality into the corresponding squaric acid ester amide demonstrated the accessibility of the cleavable functional group and activated the PEG for protein PEGylation, which was exemplarily shown by the attachment to bovine serum albumin (BSA). Furthermore, turning mPEG into a macroinitiator with a cleavable hydroxyl group granted access to a well-defined poly(ethylene glycol) derivative bearing a single cleavable moiety within its backbone. All the acetal-containing PEGs and PEG/protein conjugates were proven to degrade upon acidic treatment.