Amphiphilic multiarm star block copolymer-based multifunctional unimolecular micelles for cancer targeted drug delivery and MR imaging

Xiaojie Li, Yinfeng Qian, Tao Liu, Xianglong Hu, Guoying Zhang, Yezi You, Shiyong Liu
Biomaterials 2011, 32 (27): 6595-605
We report on the fabrication of multifunctional polymeric unimolecular micelles as an integrated platform for cancer targeted drug delivery and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast enhancement under in vitro and in vivo conditions. Starting from a fractionated fourth-generation hyperbranched polyester (Boltorn H40), the ring-opening polymerization of ɛ-caprolactone (CL) from the periphery of H40 and subsequent terminal group esterification with 2-bromoisobutyryl bromide afforded star copolymer-based atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) macroinitiator, H40-PCL-Br. Well-defined multiarm star block copolymers, H40-PCL-b-P(OEGMA-co-AzPMA), were then synthesized by the ATRP of oligo(ethylene glycol) monomethyl ether methacrylate (OEGMA) and 3-azidopropyl methacrylate (AzPMA). This was followed by the click reaction of H40-PCL-b-P(OEGMA-co-AzPMA) with alkynyl-functionalized cancer cell-targeting moieties, alkynyl-folate, and T(1)-type MRI contrast agents, alkynyl-DOTA-Gd (DOTA is 1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane-1,4,7,10-tetrakisacetic acid), affording H40-PCL-b-P(OEGMA-Gd-FA). In aqueous solution, the amphiphilic multiarm star block copolymer exists as structurally stable unimolecular micelles possessing a hyperbranched polyester core, a hydrophobic PCL inner layer, and a hydrophilic P(OEGMA-Gd-FA) outer corona. H40-PCL-b-P(OEGMA-Gd-FA) unimolecular micelles are capable of encapsulating paclitaxel, a well-known hydrophobic anticancer drug, with a loading content of 6.67 w/w% and exhibiting controlled release of up to 80% loaded drug over a time period of ∼120 h. In vitro MRI experiments demonstrated considerably enhanced T(1) relaxivity (18.14 s(-1) mM(-1)) for unimolecular micelles compared to 3.12 s(-1) mM(-1) for that of the small molecule counterpart, alkynyl-DOTA-Gd. Further experiments of in vivo MR imaging in rats revealed good accumulation of unimolecular micelles within rat liver and kidney, prominent positive contrast enhancement, and relatively long duration of blood circulation. The reported unimolecular micelles-based structurally stable nanocarriers synergistically integrated with cancer targeted drug delivery and controlled release and MR imaging functions augur well for their potential applications as theranostic systems.

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