Localized cancer treatment with combination therapy has attracted increasing attention for effective inhibition of tumor growth. In this work, we introduced diffusion molecular retention (DMR) tumor targeting effect, a new strategy that employed transferrin (Tf) modified hollow mesoporous CuS nanoparticles (HMCuS NPs) to undergo extensive diffuse through the interstitium and tumor retention after a peritumoral (PT) injection. Herein, HMCuS NPs with strong near-infrared (NIR) absorption and photothermal conversion efficiency could serve as not only a drug carrier but also a powerful contrast agent for photoacoustic imaging to guide chemo-phototherapy. The iron-dependent artesunate (AS), which possessed profound cytotoxicity against tumor cell, was used as model drug. As a result, this AS loaded Tf-HMCuS NPs (AS/Tf-HMCuS NPs) system could specially target to tumor cells and synchronously deliver AS as well as irons into tumor to achieve enhanced antitumor activity. It was found that AS/Tf-HMCuS NPs was taken up by MCF-7 cells via Tf-mediated endocytosis, and could effectively convert NIR light into heat for photothermal therapy as well as generated high levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) for photodynamic therapy. In addition, in vivo antitumor efficacy studies showed that tumor-bearing mice treated with AS/Tf-HMCuS NPs through peritumoral (PT) injection under NIR laser irradiation displayed the strongest inhibition rate of about 74.8%, even with the reduced frequency of administration. Furthermore, to demonstrate DMR, the optical imaging, photoacoustic tomography and immunofluorescence after PT injection were adopted to track the behavior of AS/Tf-HMCuS NPs in vivo. The results exhibited that Tf-HMCuS NPs prolonged the local accumulation and retention together with slow vascular uptake and extensive interstitial diffusion, which was consistent with the biodistribution studies of AS/Tf-HMCuS NPs. Therefore, the approach of localized delivery through DMR combined with multi-mechanism therapy may be a promising method for cancer treatment.

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