Structure-function relationship of PAMAM dendrimers as robust oil dispersants

Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Nov 4;48(21):12868-75. doi: 10.1021/es5038194. Epub 2014 Oct 15.


PAMAM dendrimers have recently been investigated as efficient and biocompatible oil dispersants utilizing their encapsulation capacity; however, their high cationic charge density has been shown to be cytotoxic. It is therefore imperative to mitigate cationic charge-induced toxicity and understand the effects of such changes. Presented here is a synergistic experimental and computational approach to examine the effects of varying terminal surface charge on the capacity of dendrimers to disperse model liner, polycyclic aromatic, and hybrid hydrocarbons. Uncharged dendrimers collapse by forming intramolecular hydrogen bonds, which reduce the hosting capability. On the other hand, changing the surface charges from positive to negative greatly shifts the pKa of tertiary amines of the PAMAM dendrimer interior. As a result, the negatively charged dendrimers have a significant percentage of tertiary amines protonated, ∼30%. This unexpected change in the interior protonation state causes electrostatic interactions with the anionic terminal groups, leading to contraction and a marked decrease in hydrocarbon hosting capacity. The present work highlights the robust nature of dendrimer oil dispersion and also illuminates potentially unintended or unanticipated effects of varying dendrimer surface chemistry on their encapsulation or hosting efficacy, which is important for their environmental, industrial, and biomedical applications.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Dendrimers / chemistry*
  • Hydrocarbons / analysis
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Kinetics
  • Oils / chemistry*
  • Phenanthrenes / chemistry
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Static Electricity
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Surface-Active Agents / chemistry*
  • Temperature


  • Dendrimers
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Oils
  • PAMAM Starburst
  • Phenanthrenes
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • phenanthrene