Maleimide-thiol chemistry is widely used for the design and preparation of ligand-decorated drug delivery systems such as poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA) based nanoparticles (NPs). While many publications on nanocarriers functionalized exploiting this strategy are available in the literature, the conditions at which this reaction takes place vary among publications. This paper presents a comprehensive study on the conjugation of the peptide cRGDfK and the nanobody 11A4 (both containing a free thiol group) to maleimide functionalized PLGA NPs by means of the maleimide-thiol click reaction. The influence of different parameters, such as the nanoparticles preparation method and storage conditions as well as the molar ratio of maleimide to ligand used for conjugation, on the reaction efficiency has been evaluated. The NPs were prepared by a single or double emulsion method using different types and concentrations of surfactants and stored at 4 or 20 °C before reaction with the targeting moieties. Several maleimide to ligand molar ratios and different reaction times were studied and the conjugation efficiency was determined by quantification of the not-bound ligand by liquid chromatography. The kind of emulsion used to prepare the NPs as well as the type and concentration of surfactant used had no effect on the conjugation efficiency. Reaction between the maleimide groups present in the NPs and cRGDfK was optimal at a maleimide to thiol molar ratio of 2:1, reaching a conjugation efficiency of 84 ± 4% after 30 min at room temperature in 10 mM HEPES pH 7.0. For 11A4 nanobody the optimal reaction efficiency, 58 ± 12%, was achieved after 2 h of incubation at room temperature in PBS pH 7.4 using a 5:1 maleimide to protein molar ratio. Storage of the NPs at 4 °C for 7 days prior to their exposure to the ligands resulted in approximately 10% decrease in the reactivity of maleimide in contrast to storage at 20 °C which led to almost 40% of the maleimide being unreactive after the same storage time. Our findings demonstrate that optimization of this reaction, particularly in terms of reactant ratios, can represent a significant increase in the conjugation efficiency and prevent considerable waste of resources.
Full Access Link: Journal of Controlled Release