The effect of nanoparticle polyethylene glycol surface density on ligand-directed tumor targeting studied in vivo by dual modality imaging

ACS Nano. 2012 Jun 26;6(6):5648-58. doi: 10.1021/nn301630n. Epub 2012 Jun 6.


The development and application of nanoparticles as in vivo delivery vehicles for therapeutic and/or diagnostic agents has seen a drastic growth over the last decades. Novel imaging techniques allow real-time in vivo study of nanoparticle accumulation kinetics at the level of the cell and targeted tissue. Successful intravenous application of such nanocarriers requires a hydrophilic particle surface coating, of which polyethylene glycol (PEG) has become the most widely studied and applied. In the current study, the effect of nanoparticle PEG surface density on the targeting efficiency of ligand-functionalized nanoemulsions was investigated. We synthesized 100 nm nanoemulsions with a PEG surface density varying from 5 to 50 mol %. Fluorescent and paramagnetic lipids were included to allow their multimodal detection, while RGD peptides were conjugated to the PEG coating to obtain specificity for the α(v)β(3)-integrin. The development of a unique experimental imaging setup allowed us to study, in real time, nanoparticle accumulation kinetics at (sub)-cellular resolution in tumors that were grown in a window chamber model with confocal microscopy imaging, and at the macroscopic tumor level in subcutaneously grown xenografts with magnetic resonance imaging. Accumulation in the tumor occurred more rapidly for the targeted nanoemulsions than for the nontargeted versions, and the PEG surface density had a strong effect on nanoparticle targeting efficiency. Counterintuitively, yet consistent with the PEG density conformation models, the highest specificity and targeting efficiency was observed at a low PEG surface density.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Integrin alphaVbeta3 / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Nanocapsules / chemistry*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*


  • Integrin alphaVbeta3
  • Nanocapsules
  • Polyethylene Glycols