Using light and electron microscopy, we investigated the in vivo distribution of liposomes sterically stabilized by specific lipids which prolong their circulation in blood. Tissue distribution of sterically stabilized liposomes composed of distearoyl phosphatidylcholine: cholesterol:monosialoganglioside GM1 (10:5:1)-encapsulated 67Ga-Desferal indicates that more than 30% of liposomes still remain in the blood at 24 h after tail vein injection. Moreover, such liposomes accumulated in tumors (C-26 colon carcinoma cells implanted s.c.), reaching almost the same level of uptake as liver (∼20% injected dose/g tissue). The microscopic localization of liposomes labeled with encapsulated colloidal gold or rhodamine-labeled dextran coincided well with the tissue distribution. To evaluate circulation parameters, two sizes of gold-containing egg phosphatidylcholine:cholesterol:distearoyl phosphatidylethanolamine (derivatized at its amino position with a 1900 molecular weight segment of polyethylene glycol) (10:5:0.8) liposomes were injected. The plasma was examined by electron microscopy of negativestained preparations at 0.5, 4, and 24 h after liposome injection. It was found that the ratio of small (<100 nm diameter) to large (>100 nm) liposomes increased with time, indicating a much faster clearance of the larger liposomes. To detect the localization of liposomes in various tissues, appropriate samples were fixed 24 h after the injection of gold-containing liposomes (between 80 and 100 nm in diameter) composed of egg phosphatidylcholine:cholesterol:monosialoganglioside GM1 (10:5:1) or egg phosphatidylcholine:cholesterol:derivatized distearoyl phosphatidylethanolamine. The tissues examined for this study included normal liver, bone marrow, and implanted neoplasms. Silver-enhanced colloidal gold was found predominantly within Kupffer cells in the normal liver and within macrophages in the bone marrow. Rarely were any silver-enhanced gold particles detected in hepatocytes. In all preparations, electron microscopy revealed the presence of gold in endosomes and lysosomes of fixed sinusoidal lining macrophages in the liver and bone marrow. Peripheral to the implanted tumors, silver enhancement revealed gold in small blood vessels and focally beyond the vessel boundaries in extracellular spaces around tumor cells. Gold particles were not observed within the tumor cell cytoplasm. At the tumor border, nonenhanced gold was occasionally seen by electron microscopy in cells of the mononuclear phagocyte system. We obtained the same localization pattern as with silver enhancement by using an alternative aqueous content marker, rhodamine B isothiocyanate-dextran. We conclude that liposomes of specific composition, which have the ability to remain in circulation with a half-life of 12–24 h, are also able to traverse the endothelium of small blood vessels, including those in tumors, and extravasate into extracellular spaces. The persistence of such liposomes in the circulation and their ability to reach tumor cells within a solid carcinoma make them highly attractive vehicles for chemotherapeutic agents.

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Supported by NIH Grant CA25526 to D. P. and LTI Grant EXM 38–90 to D. S. F.

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