Theranostics 2018; 8(11):3038-3058. doi:10.7150/thno.23459 This issue


Endogenous pH-responsive nanoparticles with programmable size changes for targeted tumor therapy and imaging applications

Wei Wu1,†,✉, Li Luo 1,†, Yi Wang 1,†, Qi Wu 1, Han-Bin Dai 1, Jian-Shu Li 2, Colm Durkan 3, Nan Wang 3, Gui-Xue Wang 1,✉

1. Key Laboratory for Biorheological Science and Technology of Ministry of Education, State and Local Joint Engineering Laboratory for Vascular Implants, Bioengineering College of Chongqing University, Chongqing, 400030, China
2. College of Polymer Science and Engineering, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610065, China
3. The Nanoscience Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB3 0FF, UK
These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
Wu W, Luo L, Wang Y, Wu Q, Dai HB, Li JS, Durkan C, Wang N, Wang GX. Endogenous pH-responsive nanoparticles with programmable size changes for targeted tumor therapy and imaging applications. Theranostics 2018; 8(11):3038-3058. doi:10.7150/thno.23459. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Nanotechnology-based antitumor drug delivery systems, known as nanocarriers, have demonstrated their efficacy in recent years. Typically, the size of the nanocarriers is around 100 nm. It is imperative to achieve an optimum size of these nanocarriers which must be designed uniquely for each type of delivery process. For pH-responsive nanocarriers with programmable size, changes in pH (~6.5 for tumor tissue, ~5.5 for endosomes, and ~5.0 for lysosomes) may serve as an endogenous stimulus improving the safety and therapeutic efficacy of antitumor drugs. This review focuses on current advanced pH-responsive nanocarriers with programmable size changes for anticancer drug delivery. In particular, pH-responsive mechanisms for nanocarrier retention at tumor sites, size reduction for penetrating into tumor parenchyma, escaping from endo/lysosomes, and swelling or disassembly for drug release will be highlighted. Additional trends and challenges of employing these nanocarriers in future clinical applications are also addressed.

Keywords: nanocarriers, endogenous pH-responsive, size change, targeted drug delivery, tumor therapy