Archaeosomes have drawn increasing attention in recent years as novel nano-carriers for therapeutics. The main obstacle of using archaeosomes for therapeutics delivery has been the lack of an efficient method to trigger the release of entrapped content from the otherwise extremely stable structure. Our present study tackles this long-standing problem. We made hybrid archaeosomes composed of tetraether lipids, called the polar lipid fraction E (PLFE) isolated from the thermoacidophilic archaeon Sulfolobus acidocaldarius
, and the synthetic diester lipid dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC). Differential polarized phase-modulation and steady-state fluorometry, confocal fluorescence microscopy, zeta potential (ZP) measurements, and biochemical assays were employed to characterize the physical properties and drug behaviors in PLFE/DPPC hybrid archaeosomes in the presence and absence of live cells. We found that PLFE lipids have an ordering effect on fluid DPPC liposomal membranes, which can slow down the release of entrapped drugs, while PLFE provides high negative charges on the outer surface of liposomes, which can increase vesicle stability against coalescence among liposomes or with cells. Furthermore, we found that the zeta potential in hybrid archaeosomes with 30 mol% PLFE and 70 mol% DPPC (designated as PLFE/DPPC(3:7) archaeosomes) undergoes an abrupt increase from −48 mV at 37 °C to −16 mV at 44 °C (termed the ZP transition), which we hypothesize results from DPPC domain melting and PLFE lipid ‘flip-flop’. The anticancer drug doxorubicin (DXO) can be readily incorporated into PLFE/DPPC(3:7) archaeosomes. The rate constant of DXO release from PLFE/DPPC(3:7) archaeosomes into Tris buffer exhibited a sharp increase (~2.5 times), when the temperature was raised from 37 to 42 °C, which is believed to result from the liposomal structural changes associated with the ZP transition. This thermo-induced sharp increase in drug release was not affected by serum proteins as a similar temperature dependence of drug release kinetics was observed in human blood serum. A 15-min pre-incubation of PLFE/DPPC(3:7) archaeosomal DXO with MCF-7 breast cancer cells at 42 °C caused a significant increase in the amount of DXO entering into the nuclei and a considerable increase in the cell’s cytotoxicity under the 37 °C growth temperature. Taken together, our data suggests that PLFE/DPPC(3:7) archaeosomes are stable yet potentially useful thermo-sensitive liposomes wherein the temperature range (from 37 to 42–44 °C) clinically used for mild hyperthermia treatment of tumors can be used to trigger drug release for medical interventions.
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