• Drug delivery system;
  • Electrostatic sponge;
  • Ionic gelation;
  • Polyelectrolyte complex;
  • Well-defined nanoparticles


Polymeric nanoparticles have emerged as a promising approach for drug delivery systems. We prepared chitosan (CS)/sodium alginate (SAL) polyelectrolyte complex nanoparticles (CS/SAL NPs) via a simple and mild ionic gelation method by adding a CS solution to a SAL solution, and investigated the effects of molecular weight of the added CS, and the SAL:CS mass ratio on the formation of the polyelectrolyte complex nanoparticles. The well-defined CS/SAL NPs with near-monodisperse particle size of about 160 nm exhibited a pH stable structure, and pH responsive properties with a negatively or positively charged surface. The so-called “electrostatic sponge” structure of the polyelectrolyte complex nanoparticles enhanced their drug-loading capacity towards the differently charged model drug molecules, and favored controlled release. We also found that the drug-loading capacity was influenced by the nature of the drugs and the drug-loading media, while drug release was affected by the solubility of the drugs in the drug-releasing media. The biocompatibility and biodegradability of the polyelectrolytes in the polyelectrolyte complex nanoparticles were maintained by ionic interactions. These results indicate that CS/SAL NPs can represent a useful technique for pH-responsive drug delivery systems.