pH-sensitive unimolecular polymeric micelles: synthesis of a novel drug carrier

Bioconjug Chem. 2003 Jul-Aug;14(4):774-81. doi: 10.1021/bc020041f.


Novel amphiphilic star-shaped polymers showing pH-sensitivity were synthesized by atom transfer radical polymerization. These new polymers present a core-shell structure similar to polymeric micelles, but are inherently stable to dilution and are referred to as unimolecular polymeric micelles. A four-armed multifunctional initiator was used for the sequential polymerization of hydrophobic ethyl methacrylate and tert-butyl methacrylate and hydrophilic poly(ethylene glycol)methacrylate. Polymers of molecular weight ranging from 9000 to 20,000 were obtained. Results of dynamic light scattering showed micelle size ranging from 11 to 40 nm. Unimolecular micelles were also analyzed by static light scattering in aqueous environment. Star-shaped polymers which presented the highest molar ratio of hydrophobic monomers tended to form high molecular weight aggregates in water. Hydrolysis of the tert-butyl methacrylate units permitted the introduction of ionizable methacrylic acid functions. Size distributions were bimodal at both acidic and basic pH. Since, the polymers were designed as potential delivery systems for the oral administration of hydrophobic drugs, they were titrated to evaluate the degree of ionization as a function of pH. In the stomach, the carboxylic functions are expected to be fully protonated. However, in the intestine, the micelles will be more than 40% ionized. Fluorescence studies were conducted in order to evaluate the polarity of the micellar core. Results showed an increase in polarity with pH due to the ionization of the acid functions present along the polymer chains. The pH rise was associated with an increase in the in vitro release rate of progesterone, which was used as hydrophobic drug model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drug Carriers / chemical synthesis*
  • Drug Carriers / chemistry
  • Drug Stability
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Kinetics
  • Light
  • Models, Chemical
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Structure
  • Molecular Weight
  • Particle Size
  • Polymers / chemical synthesis*
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Progesterone / chemistry
  • Scattering, Radiation
  • Time Factors


  • Drug Carriers
  • Polymers
  • Progesterone