Gel-like TPGS-Based Microemulsions for Imiquimod Dermal Delivery: Role of Mesostructure on the Uptake and Distribution into the Skin

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Journal Article
Molecular Pharmaceutics, 2017, 14 (10), pp. 3281 - 3289
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© 2017 American Chemical Society. The aim of this work was to develop an innovative microemulsion with gel-like properties for the cutaneous delivery of imiquimod, an immunostimulant drug employed for the treatment of cutaneous infections and neoplastic conditions. A pseudoternary phase diagram was built using a 1/1 TPGS (d-α-tocopheryl polyethylene glycol 1000 succinate)/Transcutol mixture as surfactant system, and oleic acid as oil phase. Eight microemulsions - selected from the 1.25/8.75 oil/surfactants ratio, along the water dilution line (from 20 to 56% w/w) - were characterized in terms of rheological behavior, optical properties via polarized microscopy, and supramolecular structure using X-ray scattering. Then, these formulations were loaded with imiquimod and the uptake and distribution into the skin was evaluated on full-thickness porcine skin. X-ray scattering experiments revealed the presence of disconnected drops in the case of microemulsion with 20% water content. Diluting the system up to 48% water content, the structure turned into an interconnected lamellar microemulsion, reaching a proper disconnected lamellar structure for the highest water percentages (52-56%). Upon water addition, also the rheological properties changed from nearly Newtonian fluids to gel-like structures, displaying the maximum of viscosity for the 48% water content. Skin uptake experiments demonstrated that formulation viscosity, drug loading, and surfactant concentration did not play an important role on imiquimod uptake into the skin, while the skin penetration was related instead to the microemulsion mesostructure. In fact, drug uptake became enhanced by locally lamellar interconnected structures, while it was reduced in the presence of disconnected structures, either drops or proper lamellae. Finally, the data demonstrated that mesostructure also affects the drug distribution between the epidermis and dermis. In particular, a significantly higher dermal accumulation was found when disconnected lamellar structures are present, suggesting the possibility of tuning both drug delivery and localization into the skin by modifying microemulsions composition.
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