• α-amino acids;
  • Leuchs, Hermann;
  • molecular evolution;
  • polypeptides;
  • ring-opening polymerization


Syntheses and polymerizations of α-amino acid N-carboxyanhydrides (NCAs) were reported for the first time by Hermann Leuchs in 1906. Since that time, these cyclic and highly reactive amino acid derivatives were used for stepwise peptide syntheses but mainly for the formation of polypeptides by ring-opening polymerizations. This review summarizes the literature after 1985 and reports on new aspects of the polymerization processes, such as the formation of cyclic polypeptides or novel organometal catalysts. Polypeptides with various architectures, such as diblock, triblock, and multiblock sequences, and star-shaped or dendritic structures are also mentioned. Furthermore, lyotropic and thermotropic liquid-crystalline polypeptides will be discussed and the role of polypeptides as drugs or drug carriers are reviewed. Finally, the hypothetical role of NCAs in molecular evolution on the prebiotic Earth is discussed.