Biomacromolecules, Vol.21, No.6, 2014-2023, 2020
Functionalization of Cellulose Nanocrystals with POEGMA Copolymers via Copper-Catalyzed Azide-Alkyne Cycloaddition for Potential Drug-Delivery Applications
Elongated colloidal nanoparticles (NPs) have significant potential for drug delivery and imaging applications in cancer therapy, but progress depends on developing a deeper understanding of how their physicochemical properties affect their interactions with cells and with tumors. Cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) are biocompatible, rodlike colloids that are broadly surface-functionalizable, making them interesting as modular drug carriers. In this report, we describe the attachment of a statistical copolymer containing oligoethylene glycol methacrylate (OEGMA; Mn approximate to 500 Da) and small amounts of aminopropylmethacrylamide (APMA) to CNCs. Here, the copolymer is designed to serve as a "stealth" corona to minimize protein adsorption, and the amino groups provide functionality for the attachment of diagnostic or therapeutic moieties. The corona polymer with a terminal azide group was synthesized by atom transfer radical polymerization using tert-butyloxycarbonyl (tBoc)-protected APMA as the comonomer. A key step in this synthesis was the grafting of acetylene groups to the CNC surface via a reaction with NaOH plus propargyl bromide in aqueous dimethyl sulfoxide. The copolymer was attached to the CNCs using copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition (CuAAC) "click" chemistry. By determining the mean number of amino groups per copolymer and amino group content of the CNC sample, we were able to infer that there were on average ca. 300 polymer molecules per CNC. Preliminary evaluation in a human ovarian cancer cell line (HEYA8) and a human breast cancer cell line (MDA-MB-436) demonstrated that these CNCs are nontoxic. We also assessed the cellular uptake of these CNC NPs in the same two cell lines using flow cytometry and distinguished between NPs being internalized by the cell or surface-bound using a trypan blue quenching experiment. These results provide support for applications of polymer-coated CNCs in medicine and are encouraging for further studies in vitro and in vivo to evaluate their potential as drug-delivery vehicles.