Homopolymer self-assembly into stable nanoparticles: concerted action of hydrophobic association and hydrogen bonding in thermoresponsive poly(alkylacrylic acid)s

J Phys Chem B. 2012 Mar 1;116(8):2356-64. doi: 10.1021/jp208445p. Epub 2012 Feb 14.


A new approach to polymer self-assembly was presented recently [M. Sedlák, Č. Koňák, J. Dybal, Macromolecules 2009, 2, 7430-7438 and 7439-7446.] (1, 2) where stable polymeric nanoparticles were formed from poly(ethylacrylic acid) homopolymers without any assembly triggering additives, simply by heating polymer solution under conditions of thermosensitivity to certain temperature. In the current Article, we present successful results on poly(propylacrylic acid), which is a more hydrophobic polymer. We also present results on a less hydrophobic polymer from this series, poly(methacrylic acid), from which nanoparticles cannot be formed. Comparison of results on all three polymers gives a solid physicochemical insight and supports the molecular mechanism of the self-assembly previously suggested: The solvent quality gradually worsens upon heating of a thermosensitive polymer solution, and polymer-polymer contacts are preferred over polymer-solvent contacts, which leads to the formation of polymer assemblies. The presence of a significant amount of charge on chains prevents macroscopic phase separation. Upon subsequent cooling to laboratory temperature, the assemblies (nanoparticles) should eventually dissolve; however, this is not the case due to the fact that polymer chains brought to a close proximity at elevated temperatures become hydrogen-bonded. In addition, hydrogen bonds strengthen upon cooling. Mainly carboxylic-carboxylate hydrogen bonds (COOH····COO(-)) are responsible for the irreversibility of the process and the stability of nanoparticles. Conclusions are supported by results from static and dynamic light scattering, FTIR spectroscopy, and cryo-TEM microscopy. Size of nanoparticles can be monitored during the growth and custom-tailored by tuning critical parameters, especially the degree of ionization, temperature, and time of heating. Nanoparticles are stable over long periods of time. They are stable in a broad range of salt concentrations, including physiological conditions, and possess a mild acceptable degree of polydispersity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acrylates / chemical synthesis*
  • Acrylates / chemistry
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Particle Size
  • Polymers / chemical synthesis*
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Polymethacrylic Acids / chemical synthesis*
  • Polymethacrylic Acids / chemistry
  • Surface Properties
  • Temperature


  • Acrylates
  • Polymers
  • Polymethacrylic Acids
  • poly(2-ethylacrylic acid)
  • poly(propyl acrylic acid)
  • polymethacrylic acid