W. Zhao, Y. Lv, J. Li, Z. Feng, Y. Ni, N. Hadjichristidis
Nature Communications, volume 10, Article number: 3590, (2019)
Organocatalysis is an important branch of catalysis for various organic transformations and materials preparation. Polymerizations promoted by organic catalysts can produce polymeric materials without any metallic residues, providing charming materials for high-value and sensitive domains such as biomedical applications, microelectronic devices and food packaging. Herein, we describe a fluorinated alcohol based catalytic system for polypeptide synthesis via catalytic ring-opening polymerization (ROP) of α-amino acid N-carboxyanhydride (NCA), fulfilling cocatalyst free, metal free, high rate and high selectivity. During polymerization, the fluorinated alcohol catalyst forms multiple dynamic hydrogen bonds with the initiator, monomer and propagating polymer chain. These cooperative hydrogen bonding interactions activate the NCA monomers and simultaneously protect the overactive initiator/propagating polymer chain-ends, which offers the whole polymerization with high activity and selectivity. Mechanistic studies indicate a monocomponent-multifunctional catalytic mode of fluorinated alcohol. This finding provides a metal free and fast approach to access well-defined polypeptides.