Journal of Controlled Release, 2018, 276, 157-167

Formation of protein corona in vivo affects drug release from temperature-sensitive liposomes

Zahraa Al-Ahmady^, Marilena Hadjidemetriou^, James Gubbins, Kostas Kostarelos*

Thermally triggered drug release from temperature-sensitive liposomes (TSL) holds great promise for cancer therapy. Different types of TSL have been designed recently for heat triggered drug release inside tumor blood vessels or after accumulation into the tumor interstitium. However, justification of drug release profiles is for far mainly based on in vitro release data. While these methods could be good enough to give early indication about the thermal sensitivity of TSL, they are still far from being optimum. This is because these methods do not take into consideration the actual adsorption of proteins onto the surface of TSL after their in vivo administration, also known as “protein corona” and the influence this could have on drug release. Therefore, in this study we compared thermal triggered drug release profile of two different types of doxorubicin encapsulated TSL; namely the lysolipid-containing TSL (LTSL) and traditional TSL (TTSL) after their in vivo recovery from the blood circulation of CD-1 mice. Ex vivo release profile at 42 °C was then tested either in the presence of full plasma or after removal of unbound plasma proteins (i.e. protein corona coated TSL). Our data showed that the influence of the environment on drug release profile was very much dependent on the type of TSL. LTSL release profile was consistently characterized by ultrafast drug release independent on the conditions tested. On the contrary, TTSL release profile changed significantly. Doxorubicin release from in vivo recovered TTSL was slow and incomplete in the presence of unbound plasma proteins, whereas very rapid drug release was detected from in vivo recovered and purified protein corona-coated TTSL in the absence of unbound proteins. Using mass spectrometry and quantification of protein adsorption, we confirmed that this discrepancy is due to the changes in protein adsorption onto TTSL when heated in the presence of unbound proteins leading to reduction in drug release. In summary this study showed that the formation of the in vivo corona on TSL will have a dramatic impact on their release profile and is dependent on both their lipid composition and the protein content of the environment in which drug release is triggered.