Optimized Photoactivatable Lipid Nanoparticles Enable Red Light Triggered Drug Release

Nisha Chander, Johannes Morstein, Jan S. Bolten, Andrej Shemet, Pieter R. Cullis, Dirk Trauner, Dominik Witzigmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Encapsulation of small molecule drugs in long-circulating lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) can reduce toxic side effects and enhance accumulation at tumor sites. A fundamental problem, however, is the slow release of encapsulated drugs from these liposomal systems at the disease site resulting in limited therapeutic benefit. Methods to trigger release at specific sites are highly warranted. Here, it is demonstrated that incorporation of ultraviolet (UV-A) or red-light photoswitchable-phosphatidylcholine analogs (AzoPC and redAzoPC) in conventional LNPs generates photoactivatable LNPs (paLNPs) having comparable structural integrity, drug loading capacity, and size distribution to the parent DSPC-cholesterol liposomes. It is shown that 65–70% drug release (doxorubicin) can be induced from these systems by irradiation with pulsed light based on trans-to-cis azobenzene isomerization. In vitro it is confirmed that paLNPs are non-toxic in the dark but convey cytotoxicity upon irradiation in a human cancer cell line. In vivo studies in zebrafish embryos demonstrate prolonged blood circulation and extravasation of paLNPs comparable to clinically approved formulations, with enhanced drug release following irradiation with pulsed light. Conclusively, paLNPs closely mimic the properties of clinically approved LNPs with the added benefit of light-induced drug release making them promising candidates for clinical development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2008198
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 27 2021


  • cancer
  • doxorubicin
  • liposome
  • photoswitch
  • triggered drug release

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science


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