Polylactides and their copolymers are key biodegradable polymers used widely in biomedical, pharmaceutical and ecological applications. The development of synthetic pathways and catalyst/initiator systems to produce pre-designed polylactides, as well as the fundamental understanding of the polymerization reactions, has continuously been an important topic. Here, we will address the recent advances in the ring-opening polymerization of lactides, with an emphasis on the highly versatile in situ generated initiator systems and single-site stereoselective initiators. The in situ generated initiators including in situ formed yttrium, calcium and zinc alkoxides all have been shown to bring about a rapid and living polymerization of lactides under mild conditions, which facilitated the preparation of a variety of advanced lactide-based biomaterials. For example, well-defined di- and tri-block copolymers consisting of hydrophilic poly(ethylene glycol) blocks and hydrophobic polyester blocks, which form novel biodegradable polymersomes or biodegradable thermosensitive hydrogels, have been prepared. In the past few years, significant progress has also been made in the area of stereoselective polymerization of lactides. This new generation of initiators has enabled the production of polylactide materials with novel microstructures and/or properties, such as heterotactic (–RRSSRRSSRRSS–) polylactide, crystalline syndiotactic (–RSRSRSRSRSRS–) polylactide and isotactic stereoblock (–RnSnRnSn–) polylactide, exhibiting a high melting temperature. The recently developed polymerizations using in situ generated initiators and stereoselective polymerizations have no doubt opened a brand-new avenue for the design and exploration of polylactides and their copolymers.
- in situ polymerization
- living polymerization
- stereoselective polymerization
- Ring-opening polymerization
- Biodegradable polymers