Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

Polymersomes with PEG corona: structural changes and controlled release induced by temperature variation.

PMID 23293844


Thermoresponsive behavior of different kinds of polymersomes was studied using small angle neutron scattering (SANS), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and proton nuclear magnetic resonance ((1)H NMR). The polymersomes were made of block copolymers containing a 2000 Da polyethylene glycol (PEG) as a hydrophilic block and either a liquidlike polymer (e.g., PBA: polybutylacrylate), a solidlike polymer (PS: polystyrene), or a liquid crystalline (LC) polymer as a hydrophobic block. Structural changes in polymersomes are driven in all cases by the critical dehydration temperature of PEG corona, which is closely related to the chemical structure and chain mobility of the hydrophobic block. No structural changes occur upon heating from 25 to 75 °C in the liquidlike polymersomes where the critical dehydration temperature of PEG should be higher than 75 °C. In contrast, glassy PEG-b-PS polymersomes and LC polymersomes show structural changes around 55 °C, which corresponds to the critical dehydration temperature of PEG in those block copolymers. Furthermore, the structural changes depend on the properties of the hydrophobic layer. Glassy PEG-b-PS polymersomes aggregate together above 55 °C, but the bilayer membrane is robust enough to remain intact. This aggregation is reversible, and rather separate polymersomes are recovered upon cooling. However, LC polymersomes display drastic and irreversible structural changes when heated above ∼55 °C. These changes are dependent on the LC structures of the hydrophobic layer. Nematic LC polymersomes turn into thick-walled capsules, whereas smectic LC polymersomes collapse into dense aggregates. As these drastic and irreversible changes decrease or remove the inner compartment volume of the vesicle, LC polymersomes can be used for thermal-responsive controlled release, as shown by a study of calcein release. Finally, toxicity studies proved that LC polymersomes were noncytotoxic and had no effect on cell morphology.