October 10, 2015

Controllable protein gates deliver on-demand permeability in artificial nanovesicles

Nanovesicle with closed protein gates (red).

(October 10, 2015)  Researchers at the University of Basel have succeeded in building protein gates for artificial nano-vesicles that become transparent only under specific conditions. The gate responds to certain pH values, triggering a reaction and releasing active agents at the desired location. This is demonstrated in a study published in the journal Nano Letters.

Tiny nanovesicles can protect active agents until they arrive in specific environments, such as at the target site in the body. In order to trigger a chemical reaction and release the contents at that loca-tion, the outer casing of the synthetically produced vesicles must become permeable at the correct point in time. Working under Prof. Cornelia Palivan, researchers from the Swiss Nanoscience Insti-tute have now developed a membrane gate that opens on demand. This means that the enzymes inside a nanocapsule become active under exactly the right conditions and act on the diseased tissue directly.

Reacting to changes in pH

The gate is made up of the chemically modified membrane protein OmpF, which responds to certain pH values. At neutral pH in the human body, the membrane is impermeable – but if it encounters a region with acidic pH, the protein gate opens and substances from the surrounding area can enter the nanocapsule. In the resulting enzymatic reaction, the capsule’s contents act on the incoming substrate and the product of this reaction is released. This method could be applied, for example, to inflamed or cancerous tissue, which often exhibits a slightly acidic pH value.

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