In the study, poly(γ-glutamic acid) (γ-PGA) and poly(lactide) (PLA) were used to synthesize block copolymers via a simple coupling reaction between γ-PGA and PLA to prepare self-assembled nanoparticles. For the potential of targeting liver cancer cells, galactosamine was further conjugated on the prepared nanoparticles as a targeting moiety. γ-PGA, a water-soluble, biodegradable, and non-toxic compound, was produced by microbial fermentation (Bacillus licheniformis, ATCC 9945a) and then was hydrolyzed. The hydrolyzed γ-PGA with a molecular weight of 4 kDa and a polydispersity of 1.3 was used, together with PLA (10 kDa, polydispersity 1.1), to synthesize block copolymers. The prepared nanoparticles had a mean particle size of about 140 nm with a zeta potential of about - 20 mV. The results obtained by the TEM and AFM examinations showed that the morphology of the prepared nanoparticles was spherical in shape with a smooth surface. In the stability study, no aggregation or precipitation of nanoparticles was observed during storage for up to 1 month, as a result of the electrostatic repulsion between the negatively charged nanoparticles. With increasing the galactosamine content conjugated on the rhodamine-123-containing nanoparticles, the intensity of fluorescence observed in HepG2 cells increased significantly. Additionally, the intensity of fluorescence observed in HepG2 cells incubated with the nanoparticles with or without galactosamine conjugated increased approximately linearly with increasing the duration of incubation. In contrast, there was no fluorescence observed in Hs68 cells (without ASGP receptors) incubated with the nanoparticles with galactosamine conjugated. The aforementioned results indicated that the galactosylated nanoparticles prepared in the study had a specific interaction with HepG2 cells via ligand-receptor recognition.
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