Surface charge generation in nanogels for activated cellular uptake at tumor-relevant pH
Nanocarriers that can be effectively transported across cellular membranes have potential in a variety of biomedical applications. Among these, materials that are capable of changing their surface properties and thus gain entry into a cell, in response to a specific tissue environment, are of particular interest. In this manuscript we report a facile route to prepare nanogels, which generate surface charge with pH as stimulus. This is achieved by designing a polymeric nanogel containing 2-diisopropylamino (DPA) moieties. The choice of DPA nanogel is based on its pKb, which causes this functional group to be rapidly protonated upon change in pH. It is noteworthy that the pH change at which the surface charge is generated in the nanogel corresponds to the slightly acidic conditions observed in the extracellular environment of solid tumor. We show that the pH at which the charge is generated, i.e. the isoelectric point (pI) of the nanogel, can be adjusted by varying the percentage of DPA units in the nanogel, its preparation process and crosslinking density. Intracellular delivery of these nanogels was greatly enhanced in an acidic pH environment due to the surface charge generation. This study demonstrates the versatile nature of the nanogels to introduce specific functionalities with relative ease to achieve desired functional behavior.