An ideal radiosensitizer holding an enhanced tumor retention can play an incredible role in enhancing tumor radiotherapy. Herein, a strategy of acid-triggered aggregation of small-sized gold nanoparticles (GNPs) system within tumor is proposed and the resulting GNPs aggregates are applied as a radiosensitizer in vitro and in vivo. The GNPs system with the acid-triggered aggregation achieves an enhanced GNPs accumulation and retention in cancer cells and tumors in the form of the resulted GNPs aggregates. As a consequence, the radiosensitization effect shows significant improvement in cancer radiotherapy, which is shown in the studies of DNA breakage and the comet assay, and the sensitizer enhancement ratio (SER) value of the GNPs system (1.730) with MCF-7 cancer cells is much larger than that of the single GNPs (1.16). In vivo antitumor studies reveal that the GNPs system also enhances the sensitivity of MCF-7 tumor xenograft to radiotherapy. Furthermore, the GNPs aggregates improve the signal of small GNPs in vivo photoacoustic imaging. This study provides a new strategy and insights into fabricating nanoaggregates to magnify the radiosensitive efficiency of nanosystems in cancer radiotherapy.

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