This work aimed to (a) characterize the microstructure and porosity of human nail and bovine hoof by mercury intrusion porosimetry and SEM image analysis, (b) study the effects of hydration and of N-acetyl-l-cysteine treatment on the microstructure of both membranes, and (c) determine whether the microstructural modifications were associated with changes in drug penetration measured by standard diffusion studies. Bovine hoof surface is more porous than nail surface although there were no differences between the mean surface pore sizes. Hydration and N-acetyl-l-cysteine increased the roughness and apparent surface porosity, and the porosity determined by mercury intrusion porosimetry of both membranes. Pore-CorTM was used to generate tridimensional structures having percolation characteristics comparable to nail and hooves. The modeled structures were horizontally banded having an inner less-porous area which disappeared upon treatment. Treatment increased the predicted permeability of the simulated structures. Triamcinolone permeation increased significantly for hooves treated N-acetyl-l-cysteine, i.e., the membranes for which microstructural and permeability changes were the largest. Thus, microstructural changes determined via mercury intrusion porosimetry and subsequently modeled by Pore-CorTM were related to drug diffusion. Further refinement of the technique will allow fast screening of penetration enhancers to be used in ungual drug delivery.Graphical abstract
Hydration and N-acetyl-l-cysteine treatment alter the porosity (A) and surface pore size distribution (B) of the nail. Modeled structures of the nail (C) emulate the porosity changes caused by N-acetyl-l-cysteine.