Magnetic nanocarriers of doxorubicin coated with poly(ethylene glycol) and folic acid: relation between coating structure, surface properties, colloidal stability, and cancer cell targeting

Langmuir. 2012 Jan 17;28(2):1496-505. doi: 10.1021/la2037845. Epub 2011 Dec 29.


We report the efficient one-step synthesis and detailed physicochemical evaluation of novel biocompatible nanosystems useful for cancer therapeutics and diagnostics (theranostics). These systems are the superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) carrying the anticancer drug doxorubicin and coated with the covalently bonded biocompatible polymer poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG), native and modified with the biological cancer targeting ligand folic acid (PEG-FA). These multifunctional nanoparticles (SPION-DOX-PEG-FA) are designed to rationally combine multilevel mechanisms of cancer cell targeting (magnetic and biological), bimodal cancer cell imaging (by means of MRI and fluorescence), and bimodal cancer treatment (by targeted drug delivery and by hyperthermia effect). Nevertheless, for these concepts to work together, the choice of ingredients and particle structure are critically important. Therefore, in the present work, a detailed physicochemical characterization of the organic coating of the hybrid nanoparticles is performed by several surface-specific instrumental methods, including surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectrometry (XPS), and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS). We demonstrate that the anticancer drug doxorubicin is attached to the iron oxide surface and buried under the polymer layers, while folic acid is located on the extreme surface of the organic coating. Interestingly, the moderate presence of folic acid on the particle surface does not increase the particle surface potential, while it is sufficient to increase the particle uptake by MCF-7 cancer cells. All of these original results contribute to the better understanding of the structure-activity relationship for hybrid biocompatible nanosystems and are encouraging for the applications in cancer theranostics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Colloids*
  • Doxorubicin / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Carriers*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Folic Acid / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Magnetics*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Nanoparticles*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared
  • Surface Properties


  • Colloids
  • Drug Carriers
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Doxorubicin
  • Folic Acid