1. School of Engineering, China Pharmaceutical University, Nanjing 211198, P. R. China.
2. State Key Laboratory of Natural Medicines, Key Laboratory of Drug Quality Control and Pharmacovigilance, Department of Pharmaceutical Analysis, China Pharmaceutical University, Nanjing 211198, P. R. China.
Rationale: Precise treatment of tumors is attracting increasing attention. Molecular probes simultaneously demonstrating the diagnostic signal and pharmacological effect in response to tumor microenvironment are highly desired. γ-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) is a biomarker with significantly up-regulated expression in the tumor area. We developed a GGT responsive near-infrared (NIR) nanoassembly for tumor-specific fluorescence imaging-guided photothermal therapy.
Methods: The GGT responsive NIR probe was constructed by conjugating GGT-specific substrate γ-glutamic acid (γ-Glu) with cyanine fluorophore (NRh-NH2) via amide reaction. The resulting NRh-G spontaneously assembled into nanoparticles (NRh-G-NPs) around 50 nm. The NPs were characterized and the properties evaluated in the presence or absence of GGT. Subsequently, we studied fluorescence imaging and photothermal therapy of NRh-G-NPs in vitro and in vivo.
Results: NRh-G-NPs, upon specific reaction with GGT, turned into NRh-NH2-NPs, showing a ~180-fold fluorescence enhancement and excellent photothermal effect recovery. NRh-G-NPs could selectively light up U87MG tumor cells while their fluorescence was weak in L02 human normal liver cells. The NPs also showed excellent tumor cell ablation upon laser irradiation. After intravenous injection into tumor-bearing mice, NRh-G-NPs could arrive in the tumor area and specifically light up the tumor. Following laser irradiation, the tumor could be completely erased with no tumor reoccurrence for up to 40 days.
Conclusions: NRh-G-NPs were specifically responsive to GGT overexpressed in U87MG tumor cells and selectively lit up the tumor for imaging-guided therapy. Besides, the recovery of photothermal property in the tumor area could improve cancer therapy precision and decreased side effects in normal tissues.
Keywords: γ-glutamyl transpeptidase, near-infrared probe, self-assembly, photothermal therapy, tumor microenvironment