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    With PEG-like properties, such as hydrophilicity and stealth effect against protein absorption, oligo(ethylene glycol) (OEG)-functionalized polypeptides have emerged as a new class of biomaterials alternative to PEG with polypeptide-like properties. Synthesis of this class of materials, however, has been demonstrated very challenging, as the synthesis and purification of OEG-functionalized N -carboxyanhydrides (OEG-NCAs) in high purity, which is critical for the success in polymerization, is tedious and often results in low yield. OEG-functionalized polypeptides are therefore only accessible to a few limited labs with expertise in this specialized NCA chemistry and materials. Here, we report the controlled synthesis of OEG-functionalized polypeptides in high yield directly from the OEG-functionalized amino acids via easy and reproducible polymerization of non-purified OEG-NCAs. The prepared amphiphilic block copolypeptides can self-assemble into narrowly dispersed nanoparticles in water, which show properties suitable for drug delivery applications. 
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  4. Abstract

    The recent advances in accelerated polymerization ofN-carboxyanhydrides (NCAs) enriched the toolbox to prepare well-defined polypeptide materials. Herein we report the use of crown ether (CE) to catalyze the polymerization of NCA initiated by conventional primary amine initiators in solvents with low polarity and low hydrogen-bonding ability. The cyclic structure of the CE played a crucial role in the catalysis, with 18-crown-6 enabling the fastest polymerization kinetics. The fast polymerization kinetics outpaced common side reactions, enabling the preparation of well-defined polypeptides using an α-helical macroinitiator. Experimental results as well as the simulation methods suggested that CE changed the binding geometry between NCA and propagating amino chain-end, which promoted the molecular interactions and lowered the activation energy for ring-opening reactions of NCAs. This work not only provides an efficient strategy to prepare well-defined polypeptides with functionalized C-termini, but also guides the design of catalysts for NCA polymerization.

     
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