A detailed understanding of the cellular uptake and trafficking of nanomaterials is essential for the design of "smart" intracellular drug delivery vehicles. Typically, cellular interactions can be tailored by endowing materials with specific properties, for example, through the introduction of charges or targeting groups. In this study, water-soluble carboxylated N-acylated poly(amino ester)-based comb polymers of different degree of polymerization and side-chain modification were synthesized via a combination of spontaneous zwitterionic copolymerization and redox-initiated reversible addition-fragmentation chain-transfer polymerization and fully characterized by 1H NMR spectroscopy and size exclusion chromatography. The comb polymers showed no cell toxicity against NIH/3T3 and N27 cell lines nor hemolysis. Detailed cellular association and uptake studies by flow cytometry and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) revealed that the carboxylated polymers were capable of passively diffusing cell membranes and targeting mitochondria. The interplay of pendant carboxylic acids of the comb polymers and the Cy5-label was identified as major driving force for this behavior, which was demonstrated to be applicable in NIH/3T3 and N27 cell lines. Blocking of the carboxylic acids through modification with 2-methoxyethylamine and poly(2-ethyl-2-oxazoline) or replacement of the dye label with a different dye (e.g., fluorescein) resulted in an alteration of the cellular uptake mechanism toward endocytosis as demonstrated by CLSM. In contrast, partial modification of the carboxylic acid groups allowed to retain the cellular interaction, hence, rendering these comb polymers a highly functional mitochondria targeted carrier platform for future drug delivery applications and imaging purposes.
- brush polymer
- cyanine dye
- spontaneous zwitterionic copolymerization