Stimuli-responsive host-guest systems based on the recognition of cryptands by organic guests.
CONSPECTUS: As the star compounds in host-guest chemistry, the syntheses of crown ethers proclaimed the birth of supramolecular chemistry. Crown ether-based host-guest systems have attracted great attention in self-assembly processes because of their good selectivity, high efficiency, and convenient responsiveness, enabling their facile application to the "bottom-up" approach for construction of functional molecular aggregates, such as artificial molecular machines, drug delivery materials, and supramolecular polymers. Cryptands, as preorganized derivatives of crown ethers, not only possess the above-mentioned properties but also have three-dimensional spatial structures and higher association constants compared with crown ethers. More importantly, the introduction of the additional arms makes cryptand-based host-guest systems responsive to more stimuli, which is crucial for the construction of adaptive or smart materials. In the past decade, we designed and synthesized crown ether-based cryptands as a new type of host for small organic guests with the purpose of greatly increasing the stabilities of the host-guest complexes and preparing mechanically interlocked structures and large supramolecular systems more efficiently while retaining or increasing their stimuli-responsiveness. Organic molecules such as paraquat derivatives and secondary ammonium salts have been widely used in the fabrication of functional supramolecular aggregates. Many host molecules including crown ethers, cyclodextrins, calixarenes, cucurbiturils, pillararenes, and cryptands have been used in the preparation of self-assembled structures with these guest molecules, but among them cryptands exhibit the best stabilities with paraquat derivatives in organic solvents due to their preorganization and additional and optimized binding sites. They enable the construction of sophisticated molecules or supramolecules in high yields, affording a very efficient way to fabricate stimuli-responsive functional supramolecular systems. This Account mainly focuses on the application of cryptands in the construction of mechanically interlocked molecules such as rotaxanes and catenanes, and stimuli-responsive host-guest systems such as molecular switches and supramolecular polymers due to their good host-guest properties. These cryptands are bicyclic derivatives of crown ethers, including dibenzo-24-crown-8, bis(m-phenylene)-26-crown-8, dibenzo-30-crown-10, and bis(m-phenylene)-32-crown-10. The length of the third arm has a very important influence on the binding strength of these cryptands with organic guests, because it affects not only the size fit between the host and the guest but also the distances and angles that govern the strengths of the noncovalent interactions between the host and the guest. For example, for bis(m-phenylene)-32-crown-10-based cryptands, a third arm of nine atoms is the best. The environmental responsiveness of these cryptand-based host-guest systems arises from either the crown ether units or the third arms. For example, a dibenzo-24-crown-8 unit introduces potassium cation responsiveness and an azobenzene group on the third arm imbues photoresponsiveness. We believe that studies on stimuli-responsive host-guest systems based on cryptands and organic guests will contribute significantly to future research on molecular devices, supramolecular polymers, and other functional supramolecular materials.