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Chem Phys Lipids. 2008 Oct;155(2):63-73. doi: 10.1016/j.chemphyslip.2008.07.009. Epub 2008 Jul 30.

Polyion-induced aggregation of oppositely charged liposomes and charged colloidal particles: the many facets of complex formation in low-density colloidal systems.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Fisica, Universita' di Roma "La Sapienza" Piazzale A. Moro 5, I-00185 Rome, Italy.


This review focusses on recent developments in the experimental study of polyion-induced charged colloidal particle aggregation, with particular emphasis on the formation of cationic liposome clusters induced by the addition of anionic adsorbing polyions. These structures can be considered, under certain points of view, a new class of colloidal systems, with intriguing properties that opens interesting and promising new opportunities in various biotechnological applications. Lipidic structures of different morphologies and different structural complexities interacting with oppositely charged polyions give rise to a rich variety of self-assembled structures that present various orders of hierarchy in the sense that, starting from a basic level, for example a lipid bilayer, they arrange themselves into superstructures as, for example, multilamellar stacks or liquid-crystalline structures. These structures can be roughly divided into two classes according to the fact that the elementary structure, involved in building a more complex one, keeps or does not keeps its basic arrangement. To the first one, belong those aggregates composed by single structures that maintain their integrity, for example, lipidic vesicles assembled together by an appropriate external agent. The second one encompasses structures that do not resemble the ones of the original objects which form them, but, conversely, derive from a deep restructuring and rearrangement process, where the original morphology of the initial constitutive elements is completely lost. In this review, I will only briefly touch on higher level hierarchy structures and I will focus on the assembling processes involving preformed lipid bilayer vesicles that organize themselves into clusters, the process being induced by the adsorption of oppositely charged polyions. The scientific interest in polyion-induced liposome aggregates is two-fold. On the one hand, in soft-matter physics, they represent an interesting colloidal system, governed by a balance between long-range electrostatic repulsion and short-range attraction, resulting in relatively large, equilibrium clusters, whose size and overall charge can be continuously tunable by simple environmental parameters. These structures present a variety of behaviors with a not yet completely understood phenomenology. On the other hand, the resulting structures possess some peculiar properties that justify their employment as drug delivery systems. Bio-compatibility, stability and ability to deliver various bio-active molecules and, moreover, their environmental responsiveness make liposome-based clusters a versatile carrier, with possibility of efficient targeting to different organs and tissues. Among the different structures made possible by the aggregating mechanism (cationic particles stuck together by anionic polyions or conversely anionic particles stuck together by cationic polyions), I will review the main experimental evidences for the existence of cationic liposome clusters. Especial attention is paid to our own work, mainly aimed at the characterization of these novel structures from a physical point of view.

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