Lipid cubic phases in topical drug delivery: Visualization of skin distribution using two-photon microscopy
Journal article, 2008
The distribution of sulphorhodamine B (SRB), a fluorescent hydrophilic model drug, was investigated in human skin after passive diffusion using four different topical delivery systems. The delivery vehicles applied were two bicontinuous lipid cubic systems, a commercial ointment and water. The lipid cubic systems consisted of either monoolein (MO) or phytantriol (PT) and water. The formulations were applied on full-thickness human skin during 24 h. Thereafter the samples were investigated using two-photon microscopy (TPM). The TPM system consisted of an inverted microscope with a 40× water-immersion objective, laser scan-box, and a pulsed femtosecond titanium:sapphire laser operating at 780 nm. The fluorescence was detected using a 560 nm long-pass filter. Sequential optical sectioning was performed, resulting in images obtained at different tissue depths. TPM revealed that SRB mainly penetrates the skin via the intercellular lipid matrix. Samples exposed to the cubic phases showed a higher accumulation of SRB in micro-fissures, from which a fluorescent network of threadlike structures spread laterally in the tissue. These structures were also detected in some of the ointment samples, but not as frequent. The penetration of SRB into the stratum granulosum was deduced from the fluorescence of SRB present inside polygonal keratinocytes with cell nuclei. Higher SRB fluorescence was obtained in the outermost layer of the epidermis using the bicontinuous cubic phases, compared to when using the reference formulations. Thus, our results suggest that the dominating delivery route using the cubic phases is via micro-fissures caused by microscopic clustering of the keratinocytes in the skin. From these micro--fissures hydrophilic compounds, here modeled by SRB, can diffuse into the surrounding intercellular lipid matrix acting like a source for sustained release.