Recently, cyclodextrins (CDs) were found to play important yet complicated (or even apparently opposite sometimes) roles in self-assembly systems of amphiphiles or surfactants. Herein, we try to review and clarify the versatility of CDs in surfactant assembly systems by 1) classifying the roles played by CDs into two groups (modulator and building unit) and four subgroups (destructive and constructive modulators, amphiphilic and unamphiphilic building units), 2) comparing these subgroups, and 3) analyzing mechanisms. As a modulator, although CDs by themselves do not participate into the final surfactant aggregates, they can greatly affect the aggregates in two ways. In most cases CDs will destroy the aggregates by depleting surfactant molecules from the aggregates (destructive), or in certain cases CDs can promote the aggregates to grow by selectively removing the less-aggregatable surfactant molecules from the aggregates (constructive). As an amphiphilic building unit, CDs can be chemically (by chemical bonds) or physically (by host-guest interaction) attached to a hydrophobic moiety, and the resultant compounds act as classic amphiphiles. As an unamphiphilic building unit, CD/surfactant complexes or even CDs on their own can assemble into aggregates in an unconventional, unamphiphilic manner driven by CD-CD H-bonds. Moreover, special emphasis is put on two recently appeared aspects: the constructive modulator and unamphiphilic building unit.
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