Dendroids, Discrete Covalently Cross-Linked Dendrimer Superstructures

Rebecca Kaup, Jan Bart Ten Hove, Aldrik H. Velders*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A versatile method is presented to form dendrimer superstructures by exploiting coacervate-core micelles as a template to confine and organize the hyperbranched macromolecules. First, complex coacervate-core micelles are formed from negative-neutral block copolymers and positively charged polyamidoamine dendrimers. The dendrimers inside the micellar core are then covalently cross-linked with each other upon addition of glutaraldehyde. After removal of the block copolymer from the assembly by increasing the salt concentration, consecutively, the formed Schiff bases cross-linking the dendrimers are reduced to amines, followed by a final dialysis step. This leads to well-defined covalently cross-linked nanostructures, coined dendroids, with a size of around 30 nm in diameter and a molecular weight of approximately 2.5 MDa. By incorporating dendrimer-encapsulated gold nanoparticles (AuDENs) into the micelle template strategy, the aggregation number of dendrimers inside the dendroids is determined by counting the nanoparticles in TEM micrographs. Furthermore, TEM performed at different tilt angles and AFM analysis corroborate formation of stable, covalently linked three-dimensional structures. Reconstruction of the TEM tilt series results in a tomogram further illustrating the 3D distribution of the gold nanoparticles, and hence the individual dendrimers, in the nanostructure. These dendroids appear to have a hard, poorly compressible core and a relatively soft outside. The versatility of the hierarchical building up of the supermolecules is illustrated by the controlled and synchronous incorporation of empty dendrimers and AuDENs into a single hybrid dendroid structure. The presented strategy allows for the preparation of a variety of classes of supermolecules, depending on the type of micellar-core macromolecule, e.g., dendrimer, cross-linker, and nanoparticles, used. Considering the broad interest in dendrimers as well as micelles in a plethora of research areas, e.g., (targeted) drug delivery, biomedical imaging, theragnostics, and catalysis, there is a great potential for dendroids and related classes of covalently linked macromolecules, viz., supermolecules.

Original languageEnglish
JournalACS Nano
Issue number1
Early online date7 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2021


  • covalent tethers
  • dendrimers
  • micelle template
  • nanostructures
  • supermolecules
  • TEM tomography

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