Smart pH-responsive nanomedicines for disease therapy

Jongyoon Shinn, Nuri Kwon, Seon Ah Lee, Yonghyun Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Background: Currently nanomedicines are the focus of attention from researchers and clinicians because of the successes of lipid-nanoparticles-based COVID-19 vaccines. Nanoparticles improve existing treatments by providing a number of advantages including protection of cargo molecules from external stresses, delivery of drugs to target tissues, and sustained drug release. To prevent premature release-related side effects, stable drug loading in nanoformulations is required, but the increased stability of the formulation could also lead to a poor drug-release profile at the target sites. Thus, researchers have exploited differences in a range of properties (e.g., enzyme levels, pH, levels of reduced glutathione, and reactive oxygen species) between non-target and target sites for site-specific release of drugs. Among these environmental stimuli, pH gradients have been widely used to design novel, responsive nanoparticles. Area covered: In this review, we assess drug delivery based on pH-responsive nanoparticles at the levels of tissues (tumor microenvironment, pH ~ 6.5) and of intracellular compartments (endosome and lysosome, pH 4.5–6.5). Upon exposure to these pH stimuli, pH-responsive nanoparticles respond with physicochemical changes to their material structure and surface characteristics. These changes include swelling, dissociation, or surface charge switching, in a manner that favors drug release at the target site (the tumor microenvironment region and the cytosol followed by endosomal escape) rather than the surrounding tissues. Expert opinion: Lastly, we consider the challenges involved in the development of pH-responsive nanomedicines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-441
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Pharmaceutical Investigation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education (2021R1F1A106212711, 2022R1C1C1003141).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s) under exclusive licence to The Korean Society of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technology.


  • Endosomal escape
  • Nanomedicines
  • Tumor microenvironment
  • pH-responsiveness


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