BODIPY-loaded polymer nanoparticles: chemical structure of cargo defines leakage from nanocarrier in living cells
Uncontrolled release of encapsulated drugs and contrast agents from biodegradable polymer nanoparticles (NPs) is a central problem in drug delivery and bioimaging. In particular, it concerns polymeric NPs prepared by nanoprecipitation, where this release (so-called burst release) can be very significant, leading to side effects and/or bioimaging artifacts. Here, we systematically studied the effect of the chemical structure of cargo molecules, BODIPY dye derivatives, on their capacity to be loaded into ∼50 nm PLGA NPs without leakage in biological media. Absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy suggested that all the dyes, except the most polar BODIPY derivative, formed blended structures with polymer NPs. Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy of dye-loaded NPs in the presence of serum proteins revealed that only the most hydrophobic BODIPY dyes, bearing one octadecyl chain or two octyl chains, remain inside the NPs, while all other derivatives are released into the serum medium. The time-lapse absorption and fluorescence studies confirmed this result, suggesting the release kinetics for the leaky NPs on the time scale of hours. Fluorescence microscopy of living cells incubated with BODIPY-loaded NPs showed that most of them exhibit strong dye leakage observed as a homogeneous distribution of fluorescence all over the cytoplasm. Importantly, NPs loaded with the most hydrophobic dyes exhibited high stability showing a dotted pattern in the perinuclear region, typical for endosomes and lysosomes. Our results highlight the significance of the cargo hydrophobicity for efficient encapsulation inside polymeric NPs prepared by nanoprecipitation, which enables designing stable cargo-loaded nanomaterials for bioimaging and drug delivery.