Interactions between self-assembled polyelectrolyte shells and tumor cells

Hua Ai, John J. Pink, Xintao Shuai, David A. Boothman, Jinming Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Layer-by-layer self-assembled polyelectrolyte shells are a new class of micro/nanocapsules with unique physicochemical properties for potential applications in drug/gene delivery. The objective of this study was to investigate the interactions of polyelectrolyte shells (∼1 μm in diameter) with MCF-7 breast cancer cells and identify key parameters that affect such interactions. Tailoring of surface properties of polyelectrolyte shells was achieved by choosing different outermost layer materials, including cationic polymers, anionic polymers, and lipid bilayers. Different surface compositions led to a wide range of electrostatic potentials from -46 to +47 mV in phophate-buffered saline buffer. Confocal microscopy studies showed that the polyelectrolyte shells were internalized into the cell cytoplasm, but not into the nuclei. Correlation of cell uptake with shell surface compositions was complicated by the adsorption of serum proteins on the surface of polyelectrolyte shells, particularly polycation-coated shells. To prevent protein adsorption, poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) grafted poly(ethyleneimine) (PEI) copolymers (1:1, 1:5, 1:10 graft ratios) were synthesized and introduced on the shell surface. Shells coated with PEI-PEG copolymers effectively reduced protein adsorption whereas PEI-PEG copolymers with lower graft ratios achieved higher cell uptake efficiency after 24 h of incubation with MCF-7 cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-312
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Biomedical Materials Research - Part A
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2005


  • Layer-by-layer self-assembly
  • Poly(ethyleneimine) (PEI)-poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG)
  • Polyelectrolyte shells
  • Shell-cell interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Metals and Alloys


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