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Langmuir. 2010 Aug 17;26(16):13183-94. doi: 10.1021/la101796p.

Ligand conjugation to bimodal poly(ethylene glycol) brush layers on microbubbles.

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  • 1Chemical Engineering Department, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA.


Using microbubbles as model systems, we examined molecular diffusion and binding to colloidal surfaces in bimodal poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) brush layers. A microbubble is a gaseous colloidal particle with a diameter of less than 10 mum, of which the surface comprises amphiphilic phospholipids self-assembled to form a lipid monolayer shell. Due to the compressible gas core, microbubbles provide a sensitive acoustic response and are currently used as ultrasound contrast agents. Similar to the design of long circulating liposomes, PEG chains are typically incorporated into the shell of microbubbles to form a steric barrier against coalescence and adsorption of macromolecules to the microbubble surface. We introduced a buried-ligand architecture (BLA) design where the microbubble surface was coated with a bimodal PEG brush. After microbubbles were generated, fluorescent ligands with different molecular weights were conjugated to the tethered functional groups on the shorter PEG chains, while the longer PEG chains served as a shield to protect these ligands from exposure to the surrounding environment. BLA microbubbles reduced the binding of macromolecules (>10 kDa) to the tethers due to the steric hindrance of the PEG overbrush while allowing the uninhibited attachment of small molecules (<1 kDa). Roughly 40% less fluorescein-conjugated streptavidin (SA-FITC) bound to BLA microbubbles compared to exposed-ligand architecture (ELA) microbubbles. The binding of SA-FITC to BLA microbubbles suggested a possible phase separation between the lipid species on the surface leading to populations of revealed and concealed ligands. Ligand conjugation kinetics was independent of microbubble size, regardless of ligand size or microbubble architecture. We observed, for the first time, streptavidin-induced surface structure formation for ELA microbubbles and proposed that this phenomenon may be correlated to flow cytometry scattering measurements. We therefore demonstrated the feasibility of postlabeling for small-molecule ligands to BLA microbubbles to generate stealth targeted ultrasound contrast agents.

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