Selective protein fouling on block copolymer micelles with well-known potential for tumour-targeting drug delivery was evidenced by using dynamic light scattering measurements. The stability and interaction of block copolymer micelles with model proteins (BSA, IgG, lysozyme and CytC) is reported for systems featuring a hydrophobic (poly[2-(diisopropylamino)-ethyl methacrylate]) (PDPA) core and hydrophilic coronas comprising poly(ethylene oxide)/poly(glycerol monomethacrylate) (PEO-b-PG2MA) or poly[2-(methacryloyloxy)ethyl phosphorylcholine] (PMPC). The results revealed that protein size and hydrophilic chain density play important roles in the observed interactions. The PEO113-b-PG2MA30-b-PDPA50 nanoparticles are stable and protein adsorption is prevented at all investigated protein environments. The successful protein-repellent characteristic of these nanoparticles is attributed to a high hydrophilic surface chain density (>0.1 chains per nm2) and to the length of the hydrophilic chains. On the other hand, although PMPC also has protein-repellent characteristics, the low surface chain density of the hydrophilic shell is supposed to enable interactions with small proteins. The PMPC40-b-PDPA70 micelles are stable in BSA and IgG environments due to weak repulsion forces between PMPC and the proteins, to the hydration layer, and particularly to a size-effect where the large BSA (RH = 4.2 nm) and IgG (RH = 7.0 nm) do not easily diffuse within the PMPC shell. Conversely, a clear interaction was observed with the 2.1 nm radius lysozyme. The lysozyme protein can diffuse within the PMPC micellar shell towards the PDPA hydrophobic core in a process favored by its smaller size and the low hydrophilic PMPC surface chain density (∼0.049 chains per nm2) as compared to PEO-b-PG2MA (∼0.110 chains per nm2). The same behavior was not evidenced with the 2.3 nm radius positively charged CytC, probably due to its higher surface hydrophilicity and the consequent chemical incompatibility with PDPA.
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