Accelerated blood clearance of PEGylated liposomes upon repeated injections: Effect of doxorubicin-encapsulation and high-dose first injection

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The “accelerated blood clearance (ABC) phenomenon”, causing PEGylated liposomes to be cleared very rapidly from the circulation upon repeated injection, has been reported to occur in rodents and rhesus monkeys. This rapid clearance was reported to be caused by the binding of PEG-specific IgM, which was generated by the first dose of injected liposomes, to the second dose of liposomes and the subsequent activation of complement, serving in turn as an opsonin. Although there are several PEGylated liposomal formulations, such as Doxil/Caelyx loaded with doxorubicin (DXR), in clinical use, the rapid clearance phenomenon has never been reported for such formulations. In the present article, we report that a first injection of PEGylated liposomes containing encapsulated DXR failed to induce the ABC phenomenon. Likewise, no rapid clearance of the test dose was observed when the first dose of “empty” PEGylated liposomes (without DXR) exceeded 5 μmol phospholipids/kg. By contrast, “empty” PEGylated liposomes at a low dose (1 μmol phospholipids/kg) induced the phenomenon as before. Western blot analysis revealed abundant binding of IgM to PEGylated liposomes when these were incubated in serum from rats that had received “empty” PEGylated liposomes. Substantially less binding of IgM was found when the liposomes were incubated in serum from rats treated with DXR-loaded PEGylated liposomes. For both the empty and the DXR-containing liposomes the amounts of IgM binding to the liposomes decreased with an increasing dose of injected liposomes. Serum obtained from rats following injection of empty PEGylated liposomes caused complement activation by addition of PEGylated liposomes in an inversely dose-dependent manner: the lower the dose, the higher the complement activation. By contrast, no complement activation was detected with serum from rats that had been treated with DXR-loaded PEGylated liposomes. These findings suggest that encapsulation of DXR as well as a relatively high lipid dose abrogate the immune response against PEGylated liposomes which is observed with the same liposomes but without DXR and at low doses. Our observations may thus have important implications for the development, evaluation and therapeutic use of liposomal cytotoxic drug formulations requiring multiple injection schemes.

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