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Biomacromolecules. 2010 Sep 13;11(9):2274-82. doi: 10.1021/bm100338x.

Synthesis and in vitro evaluation of defined HPMA folate conjugates: influence of aggregation on folate receptor (FR) mediated cellular uptake.

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Institute of Organic Chemistry, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Duesbergweg 10-14, 55099 Mainz, Germany.


In this article we report the synthesis and in vitro evaluation of well-defined, folate functionalized and fluorescently labeled polymers based on the clinically approved N-(2-hydroxypropyl)-methacrylamide (HPMA). The polymers were prepared applying the RAFT polymerization method as well as the reactive ester approach. The molecular weights of the polymers synthesized were around 15 and 30 kDa. The total content of conjugated folate varied from 0, 5, and 10 mol %. The cellular uptake of these polymers was investigated in the folate receptor (FR)-positive human nasopharyngeal epidermal carcinoma (KB-3-1) and FR-negative human lung epithelial carcinoma (A549) cancer cell lines. In FR-positive cells, the cellular uptake of polymers depended strongly on the folate content. The conjugates with the highest folate content led to the highest level of cell-associated fluorescence. Regarding influence of molecular weight, nonsignificant differences were observed when total cell uptake was analyzed. The cellular uptake is related to the aggregate formation of the polymer conjugates, which were studied by fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS). For the conjugates, we found aggregates with a diameter ranging from 11-18 nm. Much to our surprise, we found aggregates of the same size for the 30 kDa polymer bearing 5 mol % folate and for the 15 and 30 kDa conjugates with a folate content of 10 mol %. Consequently, a different conformation in solution for the different conjugates was expected. By live cell confocal fluorescence microscopy the receptor-mediated endocytosis process was observed, as colocalization with lysosomal markers was achieved. In addition, cellular uptake was not observed in FR-negative cells (A549) and can be dramatically reduced by blocking the FR with free folic acid. Our findings clearly underline the need for a minimum amount of accessible folate units to target the FR that triggers specific cellular uptake. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that the targeting vector itself strongly influences the aggregation behavior in solution and thus determines the interaction with cells regarding cellular uptake as well as intracellular localization.

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