Low solubility and tumor-targeted delivery of ginsenosides to avoid off-target cytotoxicity are challenges for clinical trials. In the present study, we report on a methodology for the synthesis of polyethylene glycol (PEG)-ginsenoside conjugates through a hydrolysable ester bond using the hydrophilic polymer polyethylene glycol with the hydrophobic ginsenosides Rh1 and Rh2 to enhance water solubility and passive targeted delivery. The resulting conjugates were characterized by 1
H nuclear magnetic resonance (1
H NMR) and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR). 1
H NMR revealed that the C-6 and C-3 sugar hydroxyl groups of Rh1 and Rh2 were esterified. The conjugates showed spherical shapes that were monitored by field-emission transmission electron microscopy (FE-TEM), and the average sizes of the particles were 62 ± 5.72 nm and 134 ± 8.75 nm for PEG-Rh1and PEG-Rh2, respectively (measured using a particle size analyzer). Owing to the hydrophilic enhancing properties of PEG, PEG-Rh1 and PEG-Rh2 solubility was greatly enhanced compared to Rh1 and Rh2 alone. The release rates of Rh1 and Rh2 were increased in lower pH conditions (pH 5.0), that for pathophysiological sites as well as for intracellular endosomes and lysosomes, compared to normal-cell pH conditions (pH 7.4). In vitro cytotoxicity assays showed that the PEG-Rh1conjugates had greater anticancer activity in a human non-small cell lung cancer cell line (A549) compared to Rh1 alone, whereas PEG-Rh2 showed lower cytotoxicity in lung cancer cells. On the other hand, both PEG-Rh1 and PEG-Rh2 showed non-cytotoxicity in a nondiseased murine macrophage cell line (RAW 264.7) compared to free Rh1 and Rh2, but PEG-Rh2 exhibited increased efficacy against inflammation by greatly inhibiting nitric oxide production. Thus, the overall conclusion of our study is that PEG conjugation promotes the properties of Rh1 for anticancer and Rh2 for inflammation treatments. Depends on the disease models, they could be potential drug candidates for further studies.
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