Interconnected Roles of Scaffold Hydrophobicity, Drug Loading, and Encapsulation Stability in Polymeric Nanocarriers

Polymer-based nanoassemblies have emerged as viable platforms for the encapsulation and delivery of lipophilic molecules. Among the criteria that such carriers must meet, if they are to be effective, are the abilities to efficiently solubilize lipophilic guests within an assembled scaffold and to stably encapsulate the molecular cargo until desired release is achieved through the actions of appropriately chosen stimuli. The former feature, dictated by the inherent loading capacity of a nanocarrier, is well studied, and it has been established that slight variations in assembly structure, such as introducing hydrophobic content, can improve miscibility with the lipophilic guests and increase the driving force for encapsulation. However, such clear correlations between assembly properties and the latter feature, nanocarrier encapsulation stability, are not yet established. For this purpose, we have investigated the effects of varying hydrophobic content on the loading parameters and encapsulation stabilities of self-cross-linked polymer nanogels. Through investigating this nanogel series, we have observed a fundamental relationship between nanoassembly structure, loading capacity, and encapsulation stability. Furthermore, a combined analysis of data from different loading amounts suggests a model of loading-dependent encapsulation stability that underscores an important correlation between the principal features of noncovalent encapsulation in supramolecular hosts.