A series of chitosan (CS) derivatives, the 6-O-carboxymethylchitosan (6-O-CC), 2-N sulfated 6-O-carboxymethylchitosan (N-SOCC) and the 2-N and 3,6-O sulfated 6-O-carboxymethyl chitosan (N,O-SOCC) were synthesized in this study. The chemical structures and the degrees of substituted carboxymethyl and sulfate groups of the synthesized compounds were respectively determined by FT-IR spectra and elemental analysis. N,O-SOCC displayed the highest protective efficiency for basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) as examined by the L929 fibroblast culture test and docking simulation. N,O-SOCC-4-thio-butylamidine (TBA) conjugates prepared by modification of N,O-SOCC with 2-iminothiolane were in situ cross-linkable. The degrees of thiol substitution of the 2-iminothiolane modified N,O-SOCC polymers were determined to be in the ranges of 45.9 ± 3.7 and 415.6 ± 12.5 μmol SH/g SOCC by quantifying the amount of thiol groups on the thiolated polymers with Ellman's reagent. The 2-iminothiolane modified N,O-SOCC and CS complex could be used for preparing nanoparticles by a polyelectrolyte self-assembly method, and the release of bFGF from the nanoparticles was successfully controlled. L929 fibroblast culture tests showed that the thiol modified N,O-SOCC/CS nanoparticles could effectively protect bFGF from inactivation over a 120 h period. The results of this study suggest that the thiol modified N,O-SOCC/CS nanoparticles may be useful as novel materials for specific delivery of bFGF with mitogenic activity.
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