Targeted delivery of drugs and sensors into cells is an attractive technology with both medical and scientific applications. Existing delivery vehicles are generally limited by the complexity of their design, dependence on active transport, and inability to function within cellular compartments. Here, we developed self-assembled nanofibrous hydrogel fibers using a biologically inert, low-molecular-weight amphiphile. Self-assembled nanofibrous hydrogels offer unique physical/mechanical properties and can easily be loaded with a diverse range of payloads. Unlike commercially available E. coli membrane particles covalently bound to the pH reporting dye pHrodo, pHrodo encapsulated in self-assembled hydrogel-fibers internalizes into macrophages at both physiologic (37°C) and sub-physiologic (4°C) temperatures through an energy-independent, passive process. Unlike dye alone or pHrodo complexed to E. coli, pHrodo-SAFs report pH in both the cytoplasm and phagosomes, as well the nucleus. This new class of materials should be useful for next-generation sensing of the intracellular milieu.
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