Encapsulation-induced aggregation and loss in activity of γ-chymotrypsin and their prevention

Ingrid J. Castellanos, Gloydian Cruz, Rubén Crespo, Kai Griebenow

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68 Scopus citations


Development of alternative procedures to the commonly employed water-in-oil-in-water technique to encapsulate proteins in polymers is needed due to protein stability issues. Herein the model protein γ-chymotrypsin has been encapsulated in poly(D,L-lactic-co-glycolic)acid (PLGA) microspheres using the solid-in-oil-in-water (s/o/w) encapsulation technique. The model protein was chosen because it has a measurable biological activity and its unfolding is irreversible. The latter make the protein an excellent sensor for unfolding events in the encapsulation procedure. While lyophilization did not cause any irreversible aggregation or loss in activity, encapsulation of the lyophilized enzyme by the s/o/w technique proved detrimental to its integrity. Specifically, 34% of the encapsulated protein was aggregated and the specific activity of enzyme released within 24 h was reduced to ca. 50% of that prior to encapsulation. FTIR spectra demonstrated substantial encapsulation-induced perturbations of the secondary structure of γ-chymotrypsin. To achieve stabilization of γ-chymotrypsin during encapsulation, excipients were employed during the initial lyophilization process. When γ-chymotrypsin was co-lyophilized with poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) the formation of non-covalent aggregates inside the microspheres decreased significantly to 8%. FTIR data showed that PEG prevented encapsulation-induced structural perturbations. In contrast, the amount of aggregates remained high (34%) when γ-chymotrypsin was co-lyophilized with trehalose. No additional non-soluble aggregates were formed during 1 week of in vitro release. Furthermore, the amount of non-soluble aggregates in the microspheres after encapsulation correlated with the amount of non-released protein. Therefore in vitro release did not cause aggregation. Similar results were found with respect to the retention of the specific enzyme activity where PEG afforded excellent stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-319
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 17 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health MBRS program (S06 GM08102), and NSF-EPSCoR (I.J.C. graduate fellowship). The authors thank Wasfi Al-Azzam for help in the development of the enzyme assay and Alkermes, Inc., for donating the PLGA used in this study.


  • Excipients
  • Microencapsulation
  • Protein aggregation
  • Protein stabilization
  • Solid-in-oil-in-water (s/o/w) encapsulation procedure


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