A dendrimer–hydrophobic interaction synergy improves the stability of polyion complex micelles†
Polyion complex (PIC) micelles incorporating PEG-dendritic copolymers display an unprecedented stability towards ionic strength that is amplified via hydrophobic interactions. The tridimensional orientation of peripheral hydrophobic linkers between charged groups and the globular/rigid dendritic scaffold maximizes this stabilization compared to PIC micelles from linear polymers. As a result, micelles stable at concentrations higher than 3 M NaCl are obtained, which represents the highest saline concentration attained with PIC micelles. Advantages of this stabilizing dendritic effect have been taken for the design of a robust, pH-sensitive micelle for the controlled intracellular release of the anticancer drug doxorubicin. This micelle displays a slightly higher toxicity, and distinctive mechanisms of cell uptake and intracellular trafficking relative to the free drug. The preparation of mixed PIC micelles by combining differently functionalized PEG-dendritic block copolymers has allowed the fine-tuning of their stability, paving the way towards the facile modulation of properties like biodegradability, drug loading, or the response to external stimuli.