How to Estimate Glass Transition Temperature of PLGA?

Polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA) is a biodegradable and biocompatible polymer used in various medical applications. One of the crucial properties of PLGA is its glass transition temperature (Tg), which is essential in determining its processing conditions and applications. Have you ever wondered how to estimate the Tg of PLGA accurately?

Estimating the Tg of PLGA is an essential and challenging task for its successful use in biomedical applications. However, the good news is that several empirical approaches are available to estimate the Tg of PLGA. In this article, we will discuss some of the commonly used methods to estimate the Tg of PLGA and tips that affect the Tg.

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What is glass transition temperature(Tg)?


Glass transition temperature (Tg) is an important parameter in determining the properties of polymers, including their physical, mechanical, and chemical characteristics. Tg is defined as the temperature at which a polymer changes from a hard and brittle state to a soft and rubbery state, without undergoing any phase change or melting. This transition is known as the glass transition, and it is reversible upon heating or cooling.

The measurement of Tg is particularly important when dealing with biodegradable polymers like Poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA), which are commonly used in drug delivery systems. The Tg of PLGA can affect its thermal stability, release temperatures, and encapsulation efficiencies of drug molecules, making it a critical property to consider. Organic solvents used during the drug delivery process can also affect Tg, making it crucial to monitor and control the temperature during drug release studies.

How to Estimate Glass Transition Temperature of PLGA?

There are several methods used to estimate Tg, including differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) and thermal mechanical analysis (TMA). Here are the details one by one.

Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC)

Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) is a powerful technique used to estimate the glass transition temperature (Tg) of polymeric nanoparticles like poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) or PLGA. Tg is a critical property that determines the behavior of drug delivery particles, including drug release kinetics and drug loading efficiency.

DSC works by measuring the heat flow of a material as it is heated or cooled, and identifying the temperature at which there is a change in the heat capacity of the material. This change corresponds to the transition from the glassy state to the rubbery state, which is characterized by molecular mobility and various physical changes such as surface tension, penetration of water, and liquid phases.

One of the benefits of using DSC to estimate Tg is its sensitivity to small changes in Tg. DSC can measure both the Tg onset and midpoint, which enable more accurate determination of the thermal properties of the material. Additionally, DSC can determine the heat capacity of PLGA particles, which provides insights into the molecular structure of the material.

Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA)

Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) is a widely used technique to estimate the glass transition temperature (Tg) of polymeric materials, including poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA). TGA involves heating a small sample of the polymer at a constant rate while measuring its weight loss as a function of temperature. The Tg of the polymer can be estimated by identifying the temperature at which there is a noticeable change in the slope of the weight loss curve.

In the case of PLGA, the Tg estimation using TGA can provide valuable insights into its thermal stability and degradation behavior. PLGA is a biodegradable polymer that has been extensively studied for drug delivery applications. The Tg of PLGA plays a crucial role in determining its drug release behavior, as it affects the mobility of the polymer chains and therefore the release kinetics of drugs from PLGA particles.

TGA can also provide valuable information on the decomposition behavior of PLGA. During the heating process, the weight loss curve of PLGA may show multiple stages, each corresponding to the decomposition of different components in the polymer. By analyzing the weight loss curve, researchers can estimate the thermal stability of PLGA and identify the decomposition temperature ranges of different components.

Dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA)


Dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) is a widely used analytical technique for estimating the glass transition temperature (Tg) of polymeric materials such as poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA). DMA is a method that measures the modulus of elasticity and loss tangent of a material as a function of temperature, which provides valuable information on the viscoelasticity of the material.

To estimate the Tg of PLGA, a small sample is subjected to an oscillating force or deformation while being exposed to a range of temperatures. Under these conditions, the Tg is detected as a shift in the slope of the modulus of elasticity or the loss tangent. The Tg is the temperature at which the material transitions from a glassy, brittle state to a more rubbery, elastic state.

Dynamic mechanical analysis can be used to study the effects of processing conditions on the Tg of PLGA. For example, the addition of plasticizers to PLGA can affect its Tg, which can have significant implications for its drug release behavior. By using DMA, researchers can determine how different processing conditions impact the Tg of PLGA and optimize the formulation of PLGA-based drug delivery vehicles.

Mathematical models

When it comes to Poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA), estimating the glass transition temperature (Tg) is essential for understanding its thermal behavior and optimizing drug delivery applications. Mathematical models can be used to estimate Tg, taking into account various factors affecting its determination.

One commonly used model for Tg estimation is the Gordon-Taylor equation, which relates Tg to the weight fraction of each monomer in the copolymer. This model assumes that the effect of the two different monomers (lactic and glycolic acid) on Tg is additive and therefore the Tg can be calculated based on the weighted average of the Tg values of the homopolymers. This equation is relevant for PLGA copolymers with different compositions, allowing for the determination of Tg based on the ratio between lactic and glycolic acid.

Another model widely used for Tg estimation in PLGA is the Fox equation, which relates Tg to the rate of penetration of water into the PLGA matrix. This model assumes that the presence of water lowers the Tg of the polymer by plasticizing it. The Fox equation can be used to estimate Tg in the presence of different levels of humidity and compares well with experimental data.

When selecting and applying mathematical models for Tg estimation, it is essential to consider other factors that affect its determination, such as the thermal history of the sample, moisture content, and surface morphology. For instance, it has been reported that the presence of residual organic solvent can lead to an overestimation of Tg, while the surface morphology can affect the mobility of molecules within the polymer matrix, influencing its Tg value.

Factors Affecting Glass Transition Temperature(Tg)

The glass transition temperature (Tg) is a critical property that affects the drug release behavior and kinetics in polymeric nanoparticles used for drug delivery applications, such as PLGA nanoparticles. Estimating Tg accurately is crucial to engineer particles with desired drug release profiles, and several factors may affect Tg estimation.

Here are seven critical factors that researchers should consider while estimating Tg in PLGA nanoparticles or other polymeric materials:

  • 1. Sample preparation techniques: The sample preparation technique used for Tg estimation should be consistent and reproducible to obtain reliable results. Factors like sample thickness, particle size, and homogeneity may impact Tg measurements.
  • 2. Type of instrumentation used: Using the appropriate instrumentation for Tg measurements is crucial. A suitable tool could include differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) or dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA), which measure the thermal properties of materials.
  • 3. Heating rate: The heating rate, or how quickly the sample is heated, plays a critical role in Tg measurement. Faster heating rates may yield lower Tg values, while slower heating rates may lead to inaccurate readings.
  • 4. Thermal history: The thermal history of the polymeric material, such as the cooling and heating rate, can impact Tg estimation. For instance, the prior exposure of the sample to heating and cooling cycles may affect Tg measurements.
  • 5. Composition and molecular weight of the polymer: The composition and molecular weight of the polymer will impact Tg values, as they affect the intermolecular forces in materials. PLGA nanoparticles with varying molar ratios of lactic acid and glycolic acid may exhibit different Tg values.
  • 6. Presence of additives or impurities: The presence of additives or impurities, such as surfactants or stabilizers, may affect the Tg value of the nanoparticle. These molecules may interfere with the interactions between the polymer chains, altering the Tg value.
  • 7. Environmental factors: Environmental factors like moisture content and organic solvents may influence Tg measurements. Moisture can disrupt the physical structure of the nanoparticle, leading to inaccurate Tg readings. The presence of organic solvents could alter interchain interactions due to swelling of the polymer structure, affecting Tg measurement.

Accurately estimating Tg in PLGA nanoparticles or other polymeric materials is critical to understanding drug release behavior and kinetics. It involves carefully controlling factors like sample preparation techniques, instrumentation, heating rate, thermal history, polymer composition, presence of additives or impurities, and environmental factors like moisture and organic solvents. Researchers must consider these factors to obtain reliable and reproducible Tg values.


Tg is a crucial critical property that affects the behavior of drug-loaded particles and their drug release kinetics. Understanding and accurately estimating Tg is essential to predict and control the release of drug molecules from PLGA particles for various drug delivery applications.

The combination of several characterization techniques and alternative methods can help us estimate Tg accurately and predict the behavior of drug-loaded PLGA particles, which is essential for the successful development of efficient drug delivery systems.