PH-Controlled Liposomes for Enhanced Cell Penetration in Tumor Environment

Michela Barattin, Andrea Mattarei, Anna Balasso, Cristina Paradisi, Laura Cantù, Elena Del Favero, Tapani Viitala, Francesca Mastrotto, Paolo Caliceti, Stefano Salmaso*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


An innovative pH-switchable colloidal system that can be exploited for site-selective anticancer drug delivery has been generated by liposome decoration with a new novel synthetic non-peptidic oligo-arginine cell-penetration enhancer (CPE) and a quenching PEGylated counterpart that detaches from the vesicle surface under the acidic conditions of tumors. The CPE module (Arg4-DAG) is formed by four arginine units conjugated to a first-generation (G1) 2,2-bis(hydroxymethyl)propionic acid (bis-MPA)/2,2-bis(aminomethyl)propionic acid (bis-AMPA) polyester dendron terminating with 1,2-distearoyl-3-azidopropane for liposome bilayer insertion. The zeta potential of the Arg4-DAG-decorated liposomes increased up to +32 mV as the Arg4-DAG/lipids molar ratio increased. The Arg4-DAG liposome shielding at pH 7.4 was provided by methoxy-PEG5 kDa-polymethacryloyl sulfadimethoxine (mPEG5 kDa-SDM8) with 7.1 apparent pKa. Zeta potential, surface plasmon resonance and synchrotron small-angle X-ray scattering analyses showed that at pH 7.4 mPEG5 kDa-SDM8 associates with polycationic Arg4-DAG-decorated liposomes yielding liposomes with neutral zeta potential. At pH 6.5, which mimics the tumor environment, mPEG5 kDa-SDM8 detaches from the liposome surface yielding Arg4-DAG exposure. Flow cytometry and confocal microscopy showed a 30-fold higher HeLa cancer cell association of the Arg4-DAG-decorated liposomes compared to non-decorated liposomes. At pH 7.4, the mPEG5 kDa-SDM8-coated liposomes undergo low cell association while remarkable cell association occurred at pH 6.5, which allowed for the controlled intracellular delivery of model macromolecules and small molecules loaded in the liposome under tumor conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17646-17661
Number of pages16
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2018
Externally publishedYes
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • cell penetration enhancers
  • controlled cell uptake
  • pH-responsive liposomes
  • sheddable liposome coating
  • site-selective drug delivery


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