Cytosolic delivery of macromolecules. II. Mechanistic studies with pH-sensitive morpholine lipids.
Drug carriers containing weak acids or bases can promote cytosolic delivery of macromolecules by exploiting the acidic pH of the endosome. We have prepared two pH-sensitive mono-stearoyl derivatives of morpholine, one with a (2-hydroxy) propylene (ML1) linker and the other, an ethylene (ML2) linker. The pK(a) values of lipids ML1 and ML2, when incorporated into liposomes, are 6.12 and 5.91, respectively. Both lipids disrupt human erythrocytes at pH equal to or below their pK(a) but show no such activity at pH 7.4. Confocal microscopy studies suggest partial endosome-to-cytosol transfer of fluorescent dextran (MW 10 kDa) encapsulated in liposomes that contained 20 mol% of morpholine lipids. Interestingly, co-incubation of morpholine lipids in free or micellar form (without liposomal incorporation) with dextran resulted in efficient cytosolic delivery. Upon acidification to the endosomal pH, liposomes containing ML1 revealed: (a). leakage of entrapped solute that is independent of solute size; (b). lack of liposomal collapse into micelles as evidenced by photon correlation spectroscopy and UV light scattering; and (c). minimal inter-bilayer interactions as shown in a fluorescence resonance energy transfer assay. These observations are consistent with progressive intravesicular reorganization of lipids into stable liposomes of smaller size, but of more homogeneous distribution, upon acidification. The results emphasize a need to manipulate liposomal formulations containing ML1 such that ML1 will promote catastrophic collapse of liposomes to mixed micelles upon exposure to acidic pH. It is only then that micelle-mediated permeabilization of the endosomal membrane will lead to efficient cytosolic delivery of macromolecules originally loaded in liposomes.
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