Formation of Zinc–Peptide Spherical Microparticles During Lyophilization from tert-Butyl Alcohol/Water Co-solvent System

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To understand the mechanism of spherical microparticle formation during lyophilizing a tert-Butyl alcohol (TBA)/water solution of a zinc peptide adduct.


A small peptide, PC-1, as well as zinc PC-1 at (3:2) and (3:1) ratios, were dissolved in 44% (wt.%) of TBA/water, gradually frozen to −50°C over 2 h (“typical freezing step”), annealed at −20°C for 6 h (“annealing step”), and subsequently lyophilized with primary and secondary drying. Zinc peptide (3:1) lyophile was also prepared with quench cooling instead of the typical freezing step, or without the annealing step. Other TBA concentrations, i.e., 25%, 35%, 54% and 65%, were used to make the zinc peptide (3:1) adduct lyophile with the typical freezing and annealing steps. The obtained lyophile was analyzed by Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). The zinc peptide solutions in TBA/water were analyzed by Differential Scanning Calorimeter (DSC). The surface tension of the TBA/water co-solvent system was measured by a pendant drop shape method.


With typical freezing and annealing steps, the free peptide lyophile showed porous network-like structure that is commonly seen in lyophilized products. However, with increasing the zinc to peptide ratio, uniform particles were gradually evolved. Zinc peptide (3:1) adduct lyophiles obtained from 25%, 35% and 44% TBA exhibit a distinctive morphology of uniform and spherical microparticles with diameters of ∼3–4 μm, and the spherical zinc peptide particles are more predominant when the TBA level approaches 20%. Adopting quench cooling in the lyophilization cycle leads to irregular shape fine powders, and eliminating the annealing step causes rough particles surface. When TBA concentration increases above 54%, the lyophiles demonstrate primarily irregular shape particles.


A proposed mechanism of spherical particle formation of the 3:1 zinc peptide encompasses the freezing of a TBA/water solution (20–70% TBA) causing the formation of a TBA hydrate phase (“dispersed TBA hydrate”). Decreasing the temperature further causes the formation of a eutectic mixture between TBA hydrate (“eutectic TBA hydrate”) and water. Due to its low aqueous solubility, the zinc peptide adduct accumulates in both of the dispersed and eutectic TBA hydrate phases to form a hydrophobic “oil” phase. Since the eutectic TBA hydrate phase is surrounded by ice, a “solid emulsion” forms to lower the interfacial energy, and gives rise to spherical zinc peptide particles upon solvent sublimation. Possibility of liquid–liquid phase separation during freeze-drying was also investigated, and no evidence was found to support this alternative mechanism.

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