• 1 Melville Laboratory for Polymer Synthesis, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge , Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1EW, United Kingdom
  • 2 Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge , Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1EW, United Kingdom
Acc. Chem. Res., 2017 02 21;50(2):208-217.
PMID: 28075551 DOI: 10.1021/acs.accounts.6b00429


Microencapsulation is a fundamental concept behind a wide range of daily applications ranging from paints, adhesives, and pesticides to targeted drug delivery, transport of vaccines, and self-healing concretes. The beauty of microfluidics to generate microcapsules arises from the capability of fabricating monodisperse and micrometer-scale droplets, which can lead to microcapsules/particles with fine-tuned control over size, shape, and hierarchical structure, as well as high reproducibility, efficient material usage, and high-throughput manipulation. The introduction of supramolecular chemistry, such as host-guest interactions, endows the resultant microcapsules with stimuli-responsiveness and self-adjusting capabilities, and facilitates hierarchical microstructures with tunable stability and porosity, leading to the maturity of current microencapsulation industry. Supramolecular architectures and materials have attracted immense attention over the past decade, as they open the possibility to obtain a large variety of aesthetically pleasing structures, with myriad applications in biomedicine, energy, sensing, catalysis, and biomimicry, on account of the inherent reversible and adaptive nature of supramolecular interactions. As a subset of supramolecular interactions, host-guest molecular recognition involves the formation of inclusion complexes between two or more moieties, with specific three-dimensional structures and spatial arrangements, in a highly controllable and cooperative manner. Such highly selective, strong yet dynamic interactions could be exploited as an alternative methodology for programmable and controllable engineering of supramolecular architectures and materials, exploiting reversible interactions between complementary components. Through the engineering of molecular structures, assemblies can be readily functionalized based on host-guest interactions, with desirable physicochemical characteristics. In this Account, we summarize the current state of development in the field of monodisperse supramolecular microcapsules, fabricated through the integration of traditional microfluidic techniques and interfacial host-guest chemistry, specifically cucurbit[n]uril (CB[n])-mediated host-guest interactions. Three different strategies, colloidal particle-driven assembly, interfacial condensation-driven assembly and electrostatic interaction-driven assembly, are classified and discussed in detail, presenting the methodology involved in each microcapsule formation process. We highlight the state-of-the-art in design and control over structural complexity with desirable functionality, as well as promising applications, such as cargo delivery stemming from the assembled microcapsules. On account of its dynamic nature, the CB[n]-mediated host-guest complexation has demonstrated efficient response toward various external stimuli such as UV light, pH change, redox chemistry, and competitive guests. Herein, we also demonstrate different microcapsule modalities, which are engineered with CB[n] host-guest chemistry and also can be disrupted with the aid of external stimuli, for triggered release of payloads. In addition to the overview of recent achievements and current limitations of these microcapsules, we finally summarize several perspectives on tunable cargo loading and triggered release, directions, and challenges for this technology, as well as possible strategies for further improvement, which will lead to substainitial progress of host-guest chemistry in supramolecular architectures and materials.

* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.