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Biomacromolecules. 2013 Nov 11;14(11):3973-84. doi: 10.1021/bm401087n. Epub 2013 Oct 29.

Comb-like amphiphilic copolymers bearing acetal-functionalized backbones with the ability of acid-triggered hydrophobic-to-hydrophilic transition as effective nanocarriers for intracellular release of curcumin.

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  • 1School of Materials Science and Engineering, Tianjin University , Tianjin, 300072, People's Republic of China.


The pH-responsive micelles have enormous potential as nanosized drug carriers for cancer therapy due to their physicochemical changes in response to the tumor intracellular acidic microenvironment. Herein, a series of comb-like amphiphilic copolymers bearing acetal-functionalized backbone were developed based on poly[(2,4,6-trimethoxybenzylidene-1,1,1-tris(hydroxymethyl) ethane methacrylate-co-poly(ethylene glycol) methyl ether methacrylate] [P(TTMA-co-mPEGMA)] as effective nanocarriers for intracellular curcumin (CUR) release. P(TTMA-co-mPEGMA) copolymers with different hydrophobic-hydrophilic ratios were prepared by one-step reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) copolymerization of TTMA and mPEGMA. Their molecular structures and chemical compositions were confirmed by (1)H NMR, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) and gel permeation chromatography (GPC). P(TTMA-co-mPEGMA) copolymers could self-assemble into nanosized micelles in aqueous solution and displayed low critical micelle concentration (CMC). All P(TTMA-co-mPEGMA) micelles displayed excellent drug loading capacity, due to the strong π-π conjugate action and hydrophobic interaction between the PTTMA and CUR. Moreover, the hydrophobic PTTMA chain could be selectively hydrolyzed into a hydrophilic backbone in the mildly acidic environment, leading to significant swelling and final disassembly of the micelles. These morphological changes of P(TTMA-co-mPEGMA) micelles with time at pH 5.0 were determined by DLS and TEM. The in vitro CUR release from the micelles exhibited a pH-dependent behavior. The release rate of CUR was significantly accelerated at mildly acidic pH of 4.0 and 5.0 compared to that at pH 7.4. Toxicity test revealed that the P(TTMA-co-mPEGMA) copolymers exhibited low cytotoxicity, whereas the CUR-loaded micelles maintained high cytotoxicity for HepG-2 and EC-109 cells. The results indicated that the novel P(TTMA-co-mPEGMA) micelles with low CMC, small and tunable sizes, high drug loading, pH-responsive drug release behavior, and good biocompatibility may have potential as hydrophobic drug delivery nanocarriers for cancer therapy with intelligent delivery.

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