In this study, we investigated the size distribution, encapsulation efficiency, and oxygen affinity of liposome-encapsulated tetrameric hemoglobin (LEHb) dispersions and correlated the data with the variation in extruder membrane pore size, ionic strength of the extrusion buffer, and hemoglobin (Hb) concentration. Asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation (AFFF) in series with multi-angle static light scattering (MASLS) was used to study the LEHb size distribution. We also introduced a novel method to measure the encapsulation efficiency using a differential interferometric refractive index (DIR) detector coupled to the AFFF-MASLS system. This technique was nondestructive toward the sample and easy to implement. LEHbs were prepared by extrusion using a lipid combination of dimyristoyl-phosphatidylcholine, cholesterol, and dimyristoyl-phosphatidylglycerol in a 10:9:1 molar ratio. Five initial Hb concentrations (50, 100, 150, 200, and 300 mg Hb per mL of buffer) extruded through five different membrane pore diameters (400, 200, 100, 80, and 50 nm) were studied. Phosphate buffered saline (PBS) and phosphate buffer (PB) both at pH 7.3 were used as extrusion buffers. Despite the variation, extrusion through 400-nm pore diameter membranes produced LEHbs smaller than the pore size, extrusion through 200-nm membranes produced LEHbs with diameters close to the pore diameter, and extrusion through 100-, 80-, and 50-nm membranes produced LEHbs larger than the pore sizes. We found that the choice of extrusion buffer had the greatest effect on the LEHb size distribution compared to either Hb concentration or extruder membrane pore size. Extrusion in PBS produced larger LEHbs and more monodisperse LEHb dispersions. However, LEHbs extruded in PB generally had higher Hb encapsulation efficiencies and lower methemoglobin (metHb) levels. The choice of extrusion buffer also affected how the encapsulation efficiency correlated with Hb concentration, extruder pore size, and the metHb level. The most optimum encapsulation efficiency and amount of Hb entrapped were achieved at the highest Hb concentration and the largest pore size for both extrusion buffers (62.38% and 187.14 mg Hb/mL of LEHb dispersion extruded in PBS, and 69.98% and 209.94 mg Hb/mL of LEHb dispersion extruded in PB). All LEHbs displayed good oxygen-carrying properties as indicated by their P50 and cooperativity coefficients. LEHbs extruded in PB had an average P50 of 23.04 mmHg and an average Hill number of 2.29, and those extruded in PBS had average values of 27.25 mmHg and 2.49. These oxygen-binding properties indicate that LEHbs possess strong potential as artificial blood substitutes. In addition, the metHb levels in PB-LEHb dispersions are significantly low even in the absence of antioxidants such as N-acetyl-L-cysteine.
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