• Chen, J.; Pan, S.; Zhou, J.; Seidel, R.; Beyer, S.; Lin, Z.; Richardson, J.J.; Caruso, F.: Metal-Phenolic Networks as Tunable Buffering Systems. Chemistry of Materials 33 (2021), p. 2557-2566

Open Access Version

The buffering effects displayed by pH-responsive polymers have recently gained attention in diverse fields such as nanomedicine and water treatment. However, creating libraries of modular and versatile polymers that can be readily integrated within existing materials remains challenging, hence restricting applications inspired by their buffering capacity. Herein, we propose the use of metal–phenolic networks (MPNs) as tunable buffering systems and through mechanistic studies show that their buffering effects are driven by pH-responsive, multivalent metal–phenolic coordination. Owing to such supramolecular interactions, MPNs exhibit ∼twofold and fourfold higher buffering capacity than polyelectrolyte complexes and commercial buffer solutions, respectively. We demonstrate that the MPN buffering effects are retained after deposition onto solid supports, thereby allowing stabilization of aqueous environmental pH for 1 week. Moreover, by using different metals and ligands for the films, the endosomal escape capabilities of coated nanoparticles can be tuned, where higher buffering capacity leads to greater endosomal escape. This study forms a fundamental basis for developing future metal–organic buffering materials.