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    Core-crosslinked polymeric micelles (CCPMs) are an attractive class of nanocarriers for drug delivery. Two crosslinking approaches to form CCPMs exist: either via a low-molecular-weight crosslinking agent to connect homogeneous polymer chains with reactive handles or via cross-reactive handles on polymers to link them to each other (complementary polymers). Previously, CCPMs based on methoxy poly(ethylene glycol)-b-poly[N-(2-hydroxypropyl) methacrylamide-lactate] (mPEG-b-PHPMAmLacn) modified with thioesters were crosslinked via native chemical ligation (NCL, a reaction between a cysteine residue and thioester resulting in an amide bond) using a bifunctional cysteine containing crosslinker. These CCPMs are degradable under physiological conditions due to hydrolysis of the ester groups present in the crosslinks. The rapid onset of degradation observed previously, as measured by the light scattering intensity, questions the effectiveness of crosslinking via a bifunctional agent. Particularly due to the possibility of intrachain crosslinks that can occur using such a small crosslinker, we investigated the degradation mechanism of CCPMs generated via both approaches using various analytical techniques. CCPMs based on complementary polymers degraded slower at pH 7.4 and 37 °C than CCPMs with a crosslinker (the half-life of the light scattering intensity was approximately 170 h versus 80 h, respectively). Through comparative analysis of the degradation profiles of the two different CCPMs, we conclude that partially ineffective intrachain crosslinks are likely formed using the small crosslinker, which contributed to more rapid CCPM degradation. Overall, this study shows that the type of crosslinking approach can significantly affect degradation kinetics, and this should be taken into consideration when developing new degradable CCPM platforms.


    Erik R Hebels, Mies J van Steenbergen, Ragna Haegebaert, Cornelis W Seinen, Barbara S Mesquita, Antoinette van den Dikkenberg, Katrien Remaut, Cristianne J F Rijcken, Bas G P van Ravensteijn, Wim E Hennink, Tina Vermonden. Mechanistic Study on the Degradation of Hydrolysable Core-Crosslinked Polymeric Micelles. Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids. 2023 Aug 29;39(34):12132-12143

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    PMID: 37581242

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