Internalization of Red Blood Cell-Mimicking Hydrogel Capsules with pH-Triggered Shape Responses
American Chemical Society (ACS) -- ACS Nano
DOI 10.1021/nn500512x
  1. discoidal capsules
  2. layer-by-layer
  3. multilayer hydrogels
  4. pH-responsive shapes
  5. cellular uptake


We report on naturally inspired hydrogel capsules with pH-induced transitions from discoids to oblate ellipsoids and their interactions with cells. We integrate characteristics of erythrocytes such as discoidal shape, hollow structure, and elasticity with reversible pH-responsiveness of poly(methacrylic acid) (PMAA) to design a new type of drug delivery carrier to be potentially triggered by chemical stimuli in the tumor lesion. The capsules are fabricated from cross-linked PMAA multilayers using sacrificial discoid silicon templates. The degree of capsule shape transition is controlled by the pH-tuned volume change, which in turn is regulated by the capsule wall composition. The (PMAA)15 capsules undergo a dramatic 24-fold volume change, while a moderate 2.3-fold volume variation is observed for more rigid PMAA–(poly(N-vinylpyrrolidone) (PMAA–PVPON)5 capsules when solution pH is varied between 7.4 and 4. Despite that both types of capsules exhibit discoid-to-oblate ellipsoid transitions, a 3-fold greater swelling in radial dimensions is found for one-component systems due to a greater degree of the circular face bulging. We also show that (PMAA–PVPON)5 discoidal capsules interact differently with J774A.1 macrophages, HMVEC endothelial cells, and 4T1 breast cancer cells. The discoidal capsules show 60% lower internalization as compared to spherical capsules. Finally, hydrogel capsules demonstrate a 2-fold decrease in size upon internalization. These capsules represent a unique example of elastic hydrogel discoids capable of pH-induced drastic and reversible variations in aspect ratios. Considering the RBC-mimicking shape, their dimensions, and their capability to undergo pH-triggered intracellular responses, the hydrogel capsules demonstrate considerable potential as novel carriers in shape-regulated transport and cellular uptake.