Temperature-Induced Assembly of Monodisperse, Covalently Cross-Linked, and Degradable Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) Microgels Based on Oligomeric Precursors.
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A simple, rapid, solvent-free, and scalable thermally driven self-assembly approach is described to produce monodisperse, covalently cross-linked, and degradable poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) microgels based on mixing hydrazide (PNIPAM-Hzd) and aldehyde (PNIPAM-Ald) functionalized PNIPAM precursors. Preheating of a seed PNIPAM-Hzd solution above its phase transition temperature produces nanoaggregates that are subsequently stabilized and cross-linked by the addition of PNIPAM-Ald. The ratio of PNIPAM-Hzd:PNIPAM-Ald used to prepare the microgels, the time between PNIPAM-Ald addition and cooling, the temperature to which the PNIPAM-Hzd polymer solution is preheated, and the concentration of PNIPAM-Hzd in the initial seed solution can all be used to control the size of the resulting microgels. The microgels exhibit similar thermal phase transition behavior to conventional precipitation-based microgels but are fully degradable into oligomeric precursor polymers. The microgels can also be lyophilized and redispersed without any change in colloidal stability or particle size and exhibit no significant cytotoxicity in vitro. We anticipate that microgels fabricated using this approach may facilitate translation of the attractive properties of such microgels in vivo without the concerns regarding microgel clearance that exist with other PNIPAM-based microgels.