The clinical development of the anticancer drug chlorambucil (CHL) is limited by its low solubility in water, poor bioavailability, and off-target toxicity. Besides, another constraint for monitoring intracellular drug delivery is the non-fluorescent nature of CHL. Nanocarriers based on block copolymers of poly(ethylene glycol)/poly(ethylene oxide) (PEG/PEO) and poly(ε-caprolactone) (PCL) are an elegant choice for drug delivery applications due to their high biocompatibility and inherent biodegradability properties. Here, we have designed and prepared block copolymer micelles (BCM) containing CHL (BCM-CHL) from a block copolymer having fluorescent probe rhodamine B (RhB) end-groups to achieve efficient drug delivery and intracellular imaging. For this purpose, the previously reported tetraphenylethylene (TPE)-containing poly(ethylene oxide)-b-poly(ε-caprolactone) [TPE-(PEO-b-PCL)2] triblock copolymer was conjugated with RhB by a feasible and effective post-polymerization modification method. In addition, the block copolymer was obtained by a facile and efficient synthetic strategy of one-pot block copolymerization. The amphiphilicity of the resulting block copolymer TPE-(PEO-b-PCL-RhB)2 led to the spontaneous formation of micelles (BCM) in aqueous media and successful encapsulation of the hydrophobic anticancer drug CHL (CHL-BCM). Dynamic light scattering and transmission electron microscopy analyses of BCM and CHL-BCM revealed a favorable size (10–100 nm) for passive targeting of tumor tissues via the enhanced permeability and retention effect. The fluorescence emission spectrum (λex 315 nm) of BCM demonstrated Förster resonance energy transfer between TPE aggregates (donor) and RhB (acceptor). On the other hand, CHL-BCM revealed TPE monomer emission, which may be attributed to the π–π stacking interaction between TPE and CHL molecules. The in vitro drug release profile showed that CHL-BCM exhibits drug release in a sustained manner over 48 h. A cytotoxicity study proved the biocompatibility of BCM, while CHL-BCM revealed significant toxicity to cervical (HeLa) cancer cells. The inherent fluorescence of RhB in the block copolymer offered an opportunity to directly monitor the cellular uptake of the micelles by confocal laser scanning microscopy imaging. These results demonstrate the potential of these block copolymers as drug nanocarriers and as bioimaging probes for theranostic applications.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2023-06-22
Acknowledgements: The research reported in this publication was supported by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).