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Pure Appl. Chem., 2004, Vol. 76, No. 7-8, pp. 1309-1319

Block copolymer vesicles

J. A. Opsteen, J. J. L. M. Cornelissen and J. C. M. van Hest

Department of Organic Chemistry, NSRIM Institute, University of Nijmegen, Toernooiveld 1, 6525 ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Abstract: Amphiphilic block copolymers have the ability to assemble into multiple morphologies in solution. Depending on the length of the hydrophilic block, the morphology can vary from spherical micelles, rods, and vesicles to large compound micelles (LCMs). Vesicle formation is favored upon an increase in total molecular weight of the block copolymer, that is, an increasing bending modulus (K). Owing to the polymeric character of this type of vesicle (also called polymersomes), they possess remarkable properties. The diffusion of (polymeric) amphiphiles in these vesicles is very low compared to liposomes and for high-molecular-weight chain entanglements even lead to reptation-type motions, which make it possible to trap near-equilibrium and metastable morphologies. Additionally, in contrast to liposomes, membrane thicknesses can exceed 200 nm. As a consequence, this increased membrane thickness, in combination with the conformational freedom of the polymer chains, leads to a much lower permeability for water of block copolymer vesicles compared to liposomes. The enhanced toughness and reduced permeability of polymersomes makes them, therefore, very suitable as stable nanocontainers, which can be used, for example, as reactors or drug delivery vehicles.