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Nanoscale. 2012 Nov 21;4(22):7012-20. doi: 10.1039/c2nr32159a.

Effect of cationic side-chains on intracellular delivery and cytotoxicity of pH sensitive polymer-doxorubicin nanocarriers.

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Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA 98109, USA.


Fine-tuning the design of polymer-doxorubicin conjugates permits optimization of an efficient nanocarrier to greatly increase intracellular uptake and cytotoxicity. Here, we report synthesis of a family of self-assembled polymer-doxorubicin nanoparticles and an evaluation of the effects of various types of side-chains on intracellular uptake and cytotoxicity of the nanocarriers for lymphoma cells. Monomers with three different cationic side-chains (CA) and pK(a)'s, i.e., a guanidinium group (Ag), an imidazole group (Im), and a tertiary amine group (Dm), were comparatively investigated. The cationic monomer, poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG), and doxorubicin (Dox) were reacted with 1,4-(butanediol) diacrylate (BUDA) to prepare a poly(β-amino ester) (PBAE) polymer via Michael addition. All three polymer-Dox conjugates spontaneously formed nanoparticles (NP) through hydrophobic interactions between doxorubicin in aqueous solution, resulting in NP-Im/Dox, NP-Ag/Dox, and NP-Dm/Dox, with hydrodynamic sizes below 80 nm. Doxorubicin was linked to all 3 types of NPs with a hydrazone bond to assure selective release of doxorubicin only at acidic pH, as it occurs in the tumor microenvironment. Both NP-Im/Dox and NP-Ag/Dox exhibited much higher intracellular uptake by Ramos cells (Burkitt's lymphoma) than NP-Dm/Dox, suggesting that the type of side chain in the NPs determines the extent of intracellular uptake. As a result, NP-Im/Dox and NP-Ag/Dox showed cytotoxicity that was comparable to free Dox in vitro. Our findings suggest that the nature of surface cationic group on nanocarriers may profoundly influence their intracellular trafficking and resulting therapeutic efficacy. Thus, it is a crucial factor to be considered in the design of novel carriers for intracellular drug delivery.

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