Distinguishing nanoparticle drug release mechanisms by asymmetric flow field–flow fractionation

Sheyda Shakiba, Saba Shariati, Haoran Wu, Carlos E. Astete, Rafael Cueto, Elham H. Fini, Debora F. Rodrigues, Cristina M. Sabliov, Stacey M. Louie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This research demonstrates the development, application, and mechanistic value of a multi-detector asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation (AF4) approach to acquire size-resolved drug loading and release profiles from polymeric nanoparticles (NPs). AF4 was hyphenated with multiple online detectors, including dynamic and multi-angle light scattering for NP size and shape factor analysis, fluorescence for drug detection, and total organic carbon (TOC) to quantify the NPs and dissolved polymer in nanoformulations. The method was demonstrated on poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) NPs loaded with coumarin 6 (C6) as a lipophilic drug surrogate. The bulk C6 release profile using AF4 was validated against conventional analysis of drug extracted from the NPs and complemented with high performance liquid chromatography – quadrupole time-of-flight (HPLC-QTOF) mass spectrometry analysis of oligomeric PLGA species. Interpretation of the bulk drug release profile was ambiguous, with several release models yielding reasonable fits. In contrast, the size-resolved release profiles from AF4 provided critical information to confidently establish the release mechanism. Specifically, the C6-loaded NPs exhibited size-independent release rate constants and no significant NP size or shape transformations, suggesting surface desorption rather than diffusion through the PLGA matrix or erosion. This conclusion was supported through comparative experimental evaluation of PLGA NPs carrying a fully entrapped drug, enrofloxacin, which showed size-dependent diffusive release, along with density functional theory (DFT) calculations indicating a higher adsorption affinity of C6 onto PLGA. In summary, the development of the size-resolved AF4 method and data analysis framework fulfills salient analytical gaps to determine drug localization and release mechanisms from nanomedicines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-496
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug distribution
  • Drug release mechanism
  • Formulation purity
  • Lipophilic drugs
  • Nanoparticle quantification
  • Polymeric nanoparticles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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