Pharmaceutical Research

, Volume 25, Issue 8, pp 1815–1821 | Cite as

Role of Particle Size in Phagocytosis of Polymeric Microspheres

  • Julie A. Champion
  • Amanda Walker
  • Samir Mitragotri
Research Paper



Polymeric microspheres are extensively researched for applications in drug and vaccine delivery. However, upon administration into the body, microspheres are primarily cleared via phagocytosis by macrophages. Although numerous studies have reported on the biochemical pathways of phagocytosis, relatively little is known about the dependence of phagocytosis on particle size. Here, we investigate the previously unexplained dependence of phagocytosis on particle size.


Rat alveolar macrophages and IgG-opsonized and non-opsonized polystyrene microspheres were used as model macrophages and drug delivery particles. Phagocytosis, attachment and internalization were measured by flow cytometry and time-lapse video microscopy.


Particles possessing diameters of 2–3 μm exhibited maximal phagocytosis and attachment. Rate of internalization, however, was not affected significantly by particle size. Maximal attachment of 2–3 μm microspheres is hypothesized to originate from the characteristic features of membrane ruffles in macrophages. Elimination of ruffles via osmotic swelling nearly eliminated the peculiar size-dependence of phagocytosis. A simple mathematical model is presented to describe the dependence of phagocytosis on particle size.


The dependence of phagocytosis on particle size originated primarily from the attachment step. These results reveal the importance of controlling drug delivery particle size distribution and selecting the size appropriate for avoiding or encouraging phagocytosis.

Key words

drug delivery macrophage microsphere phagocytosis size 



JAC was supported by a fellowship from the National Science Foundation. This work was supported by a grant from the University of California Biotechnology Research and Education Program. This work was partially supported by the MRSEC Program of the National Science Foundation under Award No. DMR00-80034.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie A. Champion
    • 1
  • Amanda Walker
    • 1
  • Samir Mitragotri
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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