Understanding ultrasound induced sonoporation: Definitions and underlying mechanisms

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Abstract

In the past two decades, research has underlined the potential of ultrasound and microbubbles to enhance drug delivery. However, there is less consensus on the biophysical and biological mechanisms leading to this enhanced delivery. Sonoporation, i.e. the formation of temporary pores in the cell membrane, as well as enhanced endocytosis is reported. Because of the variety of ultrasound settings used and corresponding microbubble behavior, a clear overview is missing. Therefore, in this review, the mechanisms contributing to sonoporation are categorized according to three ultrasound settings: i) low intensity ultrasound leading to stable cavitation of microbubbles, ii) high intensity ultrasound leading to inertial cavitation with microbubble collapse, and iii) ultrasound application in the absence of microbubbles. Using low intensity ultrasound, the endocytotic uptake of several drugs could be stimulated, while short but intense ultrasound pulses can be applied to induce pore formation and the direct cytoplasmic uptake of drugs. Ultrasound intensities may be adapted to create pore sizes correlating with drug size. Small molecules are able to diffuse passively through small pores created by low intensity ultrasound treatment. However, delivery of larger drugs such as nanoparticles and gene complexes, will require higher ultrasound intensities in order to allow direct cytoplasmic entry.

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