Reversibly crosslinked poly(vinyl alcohol)-b-poly(N-vinylcaprolactam) PVOH-b-PNVCL nanogels were prepared by using a redox-responsive crosslinking agent, 3,3′-dithiodipropionic acid (DPA), to crosslink the PVOH corona, above the lower critical solution temperature (LCST) of the PNVCL block. The stability of the as-prepared nanogels against heating and diluting with water was studied by dynamic light scattering (DLS) to follow the evolution of the hydrodynamic diameter and size distribution. Stability under reductive conditions was also studied by DLS and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) after exposure to dithiothreitol (DTT) buffer solutions at different pH. The reversibility of the crosslinking was evaluated by treating the de-crosslinked nanogels with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) above the LCST. As a hydrophobic drug model, Nile red (NR) was loaded into the nanogels, and triggered release behaviours were studied after exposure to the same DTT buffer solutions. Moreover, two PVOH-b-PNVCL copolymers with different compositions and LCST were used to evaluate the effect of the LCST on the release behaviours of the nanogels. The cytotoxicity of the nanogels against a mouse fibroblast-like L929 cell line was assessed via the MTS assay, and preliminary studies on cellular uptake of the nanogels within human melanoma MEL-5 cells were also carried out by fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence-activated cell sorting.
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