Reversibly Switching Bilayer Permeability and Release Modules of Photochromic Polymersomes Stabilized by Cooperative Noncovalent Interactions

J Am Chem Soc. 2015 Dec 9;137(48):15262-75. doi: 10.1021/jacs.5b10127. Epub 2015 Dec 1.


We report on the fabrication of photochromic polymersomes exhibiting photoswitchable and reversible bilayer permeability from newly designed poly(ethylene oxide)-b-PSPA (PEO-b-PSPA) diblock copolymers, where SPA is spiropyran (SP)-based monomer containing a unique carbamate linkage. Upon self-assembling into polymersomes, SP moieties within vesicle bilayers undergo reversible phototriggered isomerization between hydrophobic spiropyran (SP, λ2 > 450 nm irradiation) and zwitterionic merocyanine (MC, λ1 < 420 nm irradiation) states. For both SP and MC polymersomes, their microstructures are stabilized by multiple cooperative noncovalent interactions including hydrophobic, hydrogen bonding, π-π stacking, and paired electrostatic (zwitterionic) interactions, with the latter two types being exclusive for MC polymersomes. Control experiments using analogous block copolymers of hydrophobic SP monomer with a carbonate linkage (SPO) and conventional spiropyran methacrylate monomer (SPMA) containing a single ester functionality were then conducted, revealing that carbamate-incurred hydrogen bonding interactions in PEO-b-PSPA are crucial for polymersome stabilization in the zwitterionic MC state. Moreover, reversible phototriggered SP-to-MC polymersome transition is accompanied by membrane polarity and permeability switching from being nonimpermeable to selectively permeable toward noncharged, charged, and zwitterionic small molecule species below critical molar masses. Intriguingly, UV-actuated MC polymersomes possess two types of release modules: (1) sustained release upon short UV irradiation duration by taking advantage of the unexpectedly slow spontaneous MC-to-SP transition kinetics (t1/2 > 20 h) under dark conditions; (2) on-demand and switchable release under alternated UV-vis light irradiation. We further demonstrate photoswitchable spatiotemporal release of 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI, cell nuclei-staining dye) within living HeLa cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Lipid Bilayers*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Polymers / chemistry*
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Polymers