This study was designed to investigate whether a non-protein nanostructured lipid carrier (NLC) resembling high-density lipoprotein (HDL) could deliver a hydrophobic anti-atherogenic drug, lovastatin, to foam cells. Lovastatin-loaded NLC (LT-NLC) was prepared by a nanoprecipitation/solvent diffusion method. The LT-NLC-apoprotein (LT-NLC-apo) was prepared by incubating LT-NLC with native HDL. The physicochemical parameters of LT-NLC were characterized in terms of particle size, zeta potential, morphology, entrapment efficiency, and crystallization behavior. Targeting behavior and mechanism were demonstrated by the incubation of LT-NLC-apo with a RAW 264.7 macrophage-derived foam cell model in the presence or absence of very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) and lipase. The results showed that LT-NLC was solid spherical or oval in shape with an average diameter of 13.8 ± 2.2 nm, zeta potential of −29.3 ± 0.2 mV and entrapment efficiency of 96.2 ± 1.3%. Phagocytosis studies showed that uptake of LT-NLC-apo by macrophages was significantly lower than LT-NLC (p < 0.01), suggesting that LT-NLC-apo could possibly escape recognition from macrophages in vivo. The uptake was increased twofold when LT-NLC-apo was incubated with transfected foam cells containing VLDL and lipase. These results indicated that non-protein NLC resembling HDL could be a useful tool to deliver lipophilic anti-atherogenic drugs to foam cells, and that uptake could be enhanced by the VLDL receptor pathway.
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