Poly(ethylene glycol) with Multiple Aldehyde Functionalities Opens up a Rich and Versatile Post-Polymerization Chemistry

Two novel epoxide monomers 3,3-dimethoxy-propanyl glycidyl ether (DMPGE) and 3,3-dimethoxy-2,2-dimethylpropanyl glycidyl ether (DDPGE) were developed for the introduction of multiple aldehyde functionalities into the poly­(ethylene glycol) (PEG) backbone. The acetal protecting group for the aldehyde functionality is stable against the harsh, basic conditions of the anionic ring-opening polymerization. Both monomers could be homopolymerized as well as copolymerized randomly with ethylene oxide (EO) in a controlled fashion. Copolymers with molecular weights (Mn) in the range of 4500–20100 g/mol and low dispersity (Mw/Mn) between 1.06 and 1.14 were obtained. The polymers were characterized by size exclusion chromatography, 1H NMR spectroscopy, and by differential scanning calorimetry regarding their thermal properties. The controlled character of the copolymerization was verified by MALDI-TOF. To study the distribution of the acetal-protected aldehyde functionalities at the polyether chains, the copolymerization with EO was monitored by in situ 1H NMR kinetics experiments for both monomers. These measurements revealed almost ideally random distribution of the comonomers with reactivity ratio pairs rEO = 0.96, rDMPGE = 1.04 and rEO = 1.20, rDDPGE = 0.83. The acetal functionalities of DMPGE polymers were successfully addressed by hydrazone formation. In addition, DDPGE copolymers were successfully deprotected in acidic media, and various transformations yielded aldehyde-, ester-, and nitrile-functionalized PEG while maintaining a dispersity below 1.1. Consequently, these monomers represent promising building blocks for the synthesis of multifunctional PEG for a variety of biomedical purposes.