Tumor-targeting, pH-responsive, and stable unimolecular micelles as drug nanocarriers for targeted cancer therapy

Xiaoqiang Yang, Jamison J Grailer, Srikanth Pilla, Douglas A Steeber, Shaoqin Gong
Bioconjugate Chemistry 2010 March 17, 21 (3): 496-504
A new type of multifunctional unimolecular micelle drug nanocarrier based on amphiphilic hyperbranched block copolymer for targeted cancer therapy was developed. The core of the unimolecular micelle was a hyperbranched aliphatic polyester, Boltorn H40. The inner hydrophobic layer was composed of random copolymer of poly(ε-caprolactone) and poly(malic acid) (PMA-co-PCL) segments, while the outer hydrophilic shell was composed of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) segments. Active tumor-targeting ligands, i.e., folate (FA), were selectively conjugated to the distal ends of the PEG segments. An anticancer drug, i.e., doxorubicin (DOX) molecules, was conjugated onto the PMA segments with pH-sensitive drug binding linkers for pH-triggered drug release. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and dynamic light scattering (DLS) analysis showed that the unimolecular micelles were uniform with a mean hydrodynamic diameter around 25 nm. The drug loading content was determined to be 14.2%. The drug release profile, cell uptake and distribution, and cytotoxicity of the unimolecular micelles were evaluated in vitro. The folate-conjugated micelles can be internalized by the cancer cells via folate-receptor-mediated endocytosis; thus, they exhibited enhanced cell uptake and cytotoxicity. At pH 7.4, the physiological condition of bloodstream, DOX conjugated onto the unimolecular micelles exhibited excellent stability; however, once the micelles were internalized by the cancer cells, the pH-sensitive hydrazone linkages were cleavable by the intracellular acidic environment, which initially caused a rapid release of DOX. These findings indicate that these unique unimolecular micelles may offer a very promising approach for targeted cancer therapy.

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