Highly-loaded protein nanocarriers prepared by Flash NanoPrecipitation with hydrophobic ion pairing

Kurt D. Ristroph, Paradorn Rummaneethorn, Brandi Johnson-Weaver, Herman Staats, Robert K. Prud'homme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The efficient encapsulation of therapeutic proteins into delivery vehicles, particularly without loss of function, remains a significant research hurdle. Typical liposomal formulations achieve drug loadings on the order of 3–5% and encapsulation efficiencies around 50%. We demonstrate the encapsulation of model proteins with isoelectric points above and below pH 7 into nanocarriers (NCs) with protein loadings as high as 46% and encapsulation efficiencies above 95%. This is done by combining the continuous nanofabrication process Flash NanoPrecipitation (FNP) with the technique of hydrophobic ion pairing by forming and encapsulating an ionic complex within a nanocarrier stabilized by a block copolymer surface layer. We complex and encapsulate lysozyme with two anionic hydrophobic counterions, sodium oleate and sodium dodecyl sulfate, using either a pre-formed complex or in situ pairing. The strategy successfully forms NCs ~150 nm in diameter and achieves encapsulation efficiencies over 95%. Protein release rate from the NCs in physiological conditions and the bioactivity of released lysozyme are measured, and both are found to vary with the complexing counterion and the protein/counterion ratio used during formulation. Protein release on the time scale of weeks is observed, and up to 100% bioactivity is measured from released lysozyme. 16 quaternary ammonium cationic counterions are tested to encapsulate ovalbumin in 32 formulations. Of these, 19 successfully form ~150 nm NCs with loadings up to 29% and encapsulation efficiencies up to 88%. We divide the formulations into four regimes and identify chemical factors responsible for the success or failure of a given counterion to formulate NCs with the desirable size, loading, and encapsulation efficiency. A successful ovalbumin NC formulation was then tested in vivo in a mouse nasal vaccine model and found to induce a higher titer of OVA-specific IgG than unencapsulated ovalbumin. Taken together, these findings suggest that Flash NanoPrecipitation with hydrophobic ion pairing is an attractive platform for encapsulating high molecular weight proteins into NCs. In particular, the ability to tune protein release rate by varying the counterion or protein/counterion ratio used during formulation is a useful feature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number120397
JournalInternational Journal of Pharmaceutics
StatePublished - May 15 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmaceutical Science


  • Drug delivery
  • Flash NanoPrecipitation
  • Hydrophobic ion pairing
  • Lysozyme
  • Nanocarrier
  • Ovalbumin


Dive into the research topics of 'Highly-loaded protein nanocarriers prepared by Flash NanoPrecipitation with hydrophobic ion pairing'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this