Brush-like Polymer Prodrug with Aggregation-Induced Emission Features for Precise Intracellular Drug Tracking

Sanaz Naghibi, Soheila Sabouri, Yuning Hong, Zhongfan Jia, Youhong Tang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


In this study, a brush-like polymer with aggregation-induced emission (AIE) features was synthesized for drug delivery and intracellular drug tracking. The polymer consisting of tetraphenylethene (TPE) chain-end as well as oligo-poly (ethylene glycol) (PEG) and hydrazine functionalities was successfully synthesized through copper (0)-mediated reversible-deactivation radical polymerization (Cu0-mediated RDRP). Anticancer drug doxorubicin (DOX) was conjugated to the polymer and formed a prodrug named TPE-PEGA-Hyd-DOX, which contains 11% DOX. The hydrazone between DOX and polymer backbone is a pH-sensitive linkage that can control the release of DOX in slightly acidic conditions, which can precisely control the DOX release rate. The drug release of 10% after 96 h in normal cell environments compared with about 40% after 24 h in cancer cell environments confirmed the influence of the hydrazone bond. The ratiometric design of fluorescent intensities with peaks at 410 nm (emission due to AIE feature of TPE) and 600 nm (emission due to ACQ feature of DOX) provides an excellent opportunity for this product as a precise intracellular drug tracker. Cancer cells confocal microscopy showed negligible DOX solution uptake, but an intense green emission originated from prodrug uptake. Moreover, a severe red emission in the DOX channel confirmed a promising level of drug release from the prodrug in the cytoplasm. The merged images of cancer cells confirmed the high performance of the TPE-PEGA-Hyd-DOX compound in the viewpoints of cellular uptake and drug release. This polymer prodrug successfully demonstrates low cytotoxicity in healthy cells and high performance in killing cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number373
Number of pages19
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • aggregation-induced emission
  • brush-like polymer
  • cell imaging
  • prodrug


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