Transmembrane gradient driven phase transitions within vesicles: Lessons for drug delivery

D. D. Lasic*, B. Čeh, M. C.A. Stuart, L. Guo, P. M. Frederik, Y. Barenholz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Phase transitions in closed vesicles, i.e., microenvironments defined by the size of the vesicle, its contents, and permeability of its membrane are becoming increasingly important in several scientific disciplines including catalysis, growth of small crystals, cell function studies, and drug delivery. The membrane composed from lipid bilayer is in general impermeable to ions and larger hydrophilic ions. Ion transport can be regulated by ionophores while permeation of neutral and weakly hydrophobic molecules can be controlled by concentration gradients. Some weak acids or bases, however, can be transported through the membrane due to various gradients, such as electrical, ionic (pH) or specific salt (chemical potential) gradients. Upon permeation of appropriate species and reaction with the encapsulated species precipitation may occur in the vesicle interior. Alternatively, these molecules can also associate with the leaflets of the bilayer according to the transmembrane potential. Efficient liposomal therapeutics require high drug to lipid ratios and drug molecules should have, especially when associated with long circulating liposomes, low leakage rates. In this article we present very efficient encapsulation of two drugs via their intraliposomal precipitation, characterize the state of encapsulated drug within the liposome and try to fit the experimental data with a recently developed theoretical model. Nice agreement between a model which is based on chemical potential equilibration of membrane permeable species with experimental data was observed. The high loading efficiencies, however, are only necessary but not sufficient condition for effective therapies. If adequate drug retention within liposomes, especially in the case of long-circulating ones, is not achieved, the therapeutic index decreases substantially. Anticancer drug doxorubicin precipitates in the liposome interior in a form of gel with low solubility product and practically does not leak out in blood circulation in the scale of days. With an antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, the high loading efficacy and test tube stability is not reproduced in in vitro plasma leakage assays and in vivo. We believe that the reasons are higher solubility product of precipitated drug in the liposome, larger fraction of neutral molecules due closer pK values of the drug with the pH conditions in the solutions and high membrane permeability of this molecule. High resolution cryoEM shows that encapsulated anticancer agent doxorubicin is precipitated in the form of bundles of parallel fibers while antibiotic ciprofloxacin shows globular precipitate. Doxorubicin gelation also causes the change of vesicle shape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-156
Number of pages12
JournalBBA - Biomembranes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1-Nov-1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Doxorubicin gel
  • Drug encapsulation
  • Gradient loading
  • Intraliposomal precipitation
  • Microreactor
  • Phase transition
  • Stability
  • Vesicle

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