Hydrogels are versatile materials that have emerged in the last few decades as promising candidates for a range of applications in the biomedical field, from tissue engineering and regenerative medicine to controlled drug delivery. In the drug delivery field, in particular, they have been the subject of significant interest for the spatially and temporally controlled delivery of anticancer drugs and therapeutics. Self-assembling peptide-based hydrogels, in particular, have recently come to the fore as potential candidate vehicles for the delivery of a range of drugs. In order to explore how drug–peptide interactions influence doxorubicin (Dox) release, five β-sheet-forming self-assembling peptides with different physicochemical properties were used for the purpose of this study, namely: FEFKFEFK (F8), FKFEFKFK (FK), FEFEFKFE (FE), FEFKFEFKK (F8K), and KFEFKFEFKK (KF8K) (F: phenylalanine; E: glutamic acid; K: lysine). First, Dox-loaded hydrogels were characterized to ensure that the incorporation of the drug did not significantly affect the hydrogel properties. Subsequently, Dox diffusion out of the hydrogels was investigated using UV absorbance. The amount of drug retained in F8/FE composite hydrogels was found to be directly proportional to the amount of charge carried by the peptide fibers. When cation−π interactions were used, the position and number of end-lysine were found to play a key role in the retention of Dox. In this case, the amount of Dox retained in F8/KF8K composite hydrogels was linked to the amount of end-lysine introduced, and an end-lysine/Dox interaction stoichiometry of 3/1 was obtained. For pure FE and KF8K hydrogels, the maximum amount of Dox retained was also found to be related to the overall concentration of the hydrogels and, therefore, to the overall fiber surface area available for interaction with the drug. For 14 mM hydrogel, ∼170–200 μM Dox could be retained after 24 h. This set of peptides also showed a broad range of susceptibilities to enzymatic degradation opening the prospect of being able to control also the rate of degradation of these hydrogels. Finally, the Dox released from the hydrogel was shown to be active and affect 3T3 mouse fibroblasts viability in vitro. Our study clearly shows the potential of this peptide design as a platform for the formulation of injectable or sprayable hydrogels for controlled drug delivery.
|Early online date||11 May 2022|
|State||Published - 11 May 2022|