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A novel pH-sensitive controlled release system is proposed by using mussel-inspired PDA coated MSNs as nanocarriers. Using PDA coating as the gatekeepers, the drug molecules are blocked in MSNs at neutral pH and released at lower pH.A novel pH-sensitive controlled release system is proposed by using mussel-inspired polydopamine (PDA) coated mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) as nanocarriers. MSNs with a large pore diameter are synthesized by using 1,3,5-trimethylbenzene as a pore-expanding agent and are modified with a PDA coating by virtue of oxidative self-polymerization of dopamine in neutral pH. PDA coated MSNs are characterized by FTIR, TEM, N2 adsorption and XPS techniques. The PDA coating can work as pH-sensitive gatekeepers to control the release of drug molecules from MSNs in response to the pH-stimulus. Doxorubicin (DOX, an anticancer drug) can be released in the acid media and blocked in the neutral media.