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Nanoparticulate composites of hydroxyapatite (HAp) and chitosan were synthesized by ultrasound-assisted sequential precipitation and characterized for their microstructure at the atomic scale, surface charge, drug release properties, and combined antibacterial and osteogenic response. Crystallinity of HAp nanoparticles was reduced because of the interference of the surface layers of chitosan with the dissolution/reprecipitation-mediated recrystallization mechanism that conditions the transition from the as-precipitated amorphous calcium phosphate phase to the most thermodynamically stable one—HAp. Embedment of 5–10 nm sized, narrowly dispersed HAp nanoparticles within the polymeric matrix mitigated the burst release of the small molecule model drug, fluorescein, bound to HAp by physisorption, and promoted sustained-release kinetics throughout the 3 weeks of release time. The addition of chitosan to the particulate drug carrier formulation, however, reduced the antibacterial efficacy against S aureus. Excellent cell spreading and proliferation of osteoblastic MC3T3-E1 cells evidenced on microscopic conglomerates of HAp nanoparticles in vitro also markedly diminished on HAp/chitosan composites. Mitochondrial dehydrogenase activity exhibited normal values only for HAp/chitosan particle concentrations of up to 2 mg/cm2 and significantly dropped, by about 50%, at higher particle concentrations (4 and 8 mg/cm2). The gene expression of osteocalcin, a mineralization inductor, and the transcription factor Runx2 was downregulated in cells incubated in the presence of 3 mg/cm2 HAp/chitosan composite particles, whereas the expression of osteopontin, a potent mineralization inhibitor, was upregulated, further demonstrating the partially unfavorable osteoblastic cell response to the given particles. The peak in the expression of osteogenic markers paralleling the osteoblastic differentiation was also delayed most for the cell population incubated with HAp/chitosan particles. Overall, the positive effect of chitosan coating on the drug elution profile of HAp nanoparticles as carriers for the controlled delivery of antibiotics in the treatment of osteomyelitis was compensated for by the lower bacteriostatic efficiency and the comparatively unviable cell response to the composite material, especially at higher dosages.


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