Document Type



Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Pharmacology and pharmacy

Publication Details

Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces

Volume 169, 1 September 2018, Pages 242-248


The dissolution of microporous silica nanoparticles (NP) in aqueous environments of different biologically relevant pH was studied in order to assess their potential as drug delivery vehicles. Silica NPs, loaded with fluorescein, were prepared using different organosilane precursors (tetraethoxysilane, ethyl triethoxysilane or a 1:1 molar ratio of both) and NP dissolution was evaluated in aqueous conditions at pH 4, pH 6 and pH 7.4. These conditions correspond to the acidity of the intracellular environment (late endosome, early endosome, cytosol respectively) and gastrointestinal tract (‘fed’ stomach, duodenum and jejunum respectively). All NPs degraded at pH 6 and pH 7.4, while no dissolution was observed at pH 4. NP dissolution could be clearly visualised as mesoporous hollows and surface defects using electron microscopy, and was supported by UV–vis, fluorimetry and DLS data. The dissolution profiles of the NPs are particularly suited to the requirements of oral drug delivery, whereby NPs must resist degradation in the harsh acidic conditions of the stomach (pH 4), but dissolve and release their cargo in the small intestine (pH 6–7.4). Particle cores made solely of ethyl triethoxysilane exhibited a ‘burst release’ of encapsulated fluorescein at pH 6 and pH 7.4, whereas NPs synthesised with tetraethoxysilane released fluorescein in a more sustained fashion. Thus, by varying the organosilane precursor used in NP formation, it is possible to modify particle dissolution rates and tune the release profile of encapsulated fluorescein. The flexible synthesis afforded by silica NPs to achieve pH-responsive dissolution therefore makes this class of nanomaterial an adaptable platform that may be well suited to oral delivery applications.