Thermoresponsive polymeric dexamethasone prodrug for arthritis pain

Gang Zhao, Rongguo Ren, Xin Wei, Zhenshan Jia, Ningrong Chen, Yuanyuan Sun, Zhifeng Zhao, Subodh M. Lele, Haizhen A. Zhong, Mary B. Goldring, Steven R. Goldring, Dong Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Intra-articular (IA) glucocorticoids (GC) are commonly used for clinical management of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but their efficacy is limited by the relatively short duration of action and associated side effects. To provide sustained efficacy and to improve the safety of GCs, we previously developed a N-(2-hydroxypropyl)methacrylamide (HPMA) copolymer-based dexamethasone (Dex) prodrug. Serendipitously, we discovered that, by increasing the Dex content of the prodrug to unusually high levels, the aqueous solution of the polymeric prodrug becomes thermoresponsive, transitioning from a free-flowing liquid at 4 °C to a hydrogel at 30 °C or greater. Upon IA injection, the prodrug solution forms a hydrogel (ProGel-Dex) that is retained in the joint for more than 1 month, where it undergoes gradual dissolution, releasing the water-soluble polymeric prodrug. The released prodrug is swiftly internalized and intracellularly processed by phagocytic synoviocytes to release free Dex, resulting in sustained amelioration of joint inflammation and pain in rodent models of inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis. The low molecular weight (6.8 kDa) of the ProGel-Dex ensures rapid renal clearance once it escapes the joint, limiting systemic GC exposure and risk of potential off-target side effects. The present study illustrates the translational potential of ProGel-Dex as a potent opioid-sparing, locally delivered adjuvant analgesic for sustained clinical management of arthritis pain and inflammation. Importantly, the observed thermoresponsive properties of the prodrug establishes ProGel as a platform technology for the local delivery of a broad spectrum of therapeutic agents to treat a diverse array of pathological conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)484-497
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
StatePublished - Nov 10 2021


  • Arthritis
  • Glucocorticoid
  • Hydrogel
  • Pain
  • Polymeric prodrug
  • Thermoresponsive

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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