The influence of pH on the molecular degradation mechanism of PLGA


Poly[(rac-lactide)-co-glycolide] (PLGA) is used in medicine to provide mechanical support for healing tissue or as matrix for controlled drug release. The properties of this copolymer depend on the evolution of the molecular weight of the material during degradation, which is determined by the kinetics of the cleavage of hydrolysable bonds. The generally accepted description of the degradation of PLGA is a random fragmentation that is autocatalyzed by the accumulation of acidic fragments inside the bulk material. Since mechanistic studies with lactide oligomers have concluded a chain-end scission mechanism and monolayer degradation experiments with polylactide found no accelerated degradation at lower pH, we hypothesize that the impact of acidic fragments on the molecular degradation kinetics of PLGA is overestimated. By means of the Langmuir monolayer degradation technique, the molecular degradation kinetics of PLGA at different pH could be determined. Protons did not catalyze the degradation of PLGA. The molecular mechanism at neutral pH and low pH is a combination of random and chainend-cut events, while the degradation under strongly alkaline conditions is determined by rapid chainend cuts. We suggest that the degradation of bulk PLGA is not catalyzed by the acidic degradation products. Instead, increased concentration of small fragments leads to accelerated mass loss via fast chain-end cut events. In the future, we aim to substantiate the proposed molecular degradation mechanism of PLGA with interfacial rheology.
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