A promising approach toward cancer therapy is expected to integrate imaging and therapeutic agents into a versatile nanocarrier for achieving improved antitumor efficacy and reducing the side effects of conventional chemotherapy. Herein, we designed a poly(d,l-lactic- co-glycolic acid) (PLGA)-based theranostic nanoplatform using the double emulsion solvent evaporation method (W/O/W), which is associated with bovine serum albumin (BSA) modifications, to codeliver indocyanine green (ICG), a widely used near-infrared (NIR) dye, and doxorubicin (Dox), a chemotherapeutic drug, for dual-modality imaging-guided chemo-photothermal combination cancer therapy. The resultant ICG/Dox co-loaded hybrid PLGA nanoparticles (denoted as IDPNs) had a diameter of around 200 nm and exhibited excellent monodispersity, fluorescence/size stability, and biocompatibility. It was confirmed that IDPNs displayed a photothermal effect and that the heat induced faster release of Dox, which led to enhanced drug accumulation in cells and was followed by their efficient escape from the lysosomes into the cytoplasm and drug diffusion into the nucleus, resulting in a chemo-photothermal combinatorial therapeutic effect in vitro. Moreover, the IDPNs exhibited a high ability to accumulate in tumor tissue, owing to the enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect, and could realize real-time fluorescence/photoacoustic imaging of solid tumors with a high spatial resolution. In addition, the exposure of tumor regions to NIR irradiation could enhance the tumor penetration ability of IDPNs, almost eradicating subcutaneous tumors. In addition, the inhibition rate of IDPNs used in combination with laser irradiation against EMT-6 tumors in tumor-bearing nude mice (chemo-photothermal therapy) was approximately 95.6%, which was much higher than that for chemo- or photothermal treatment alone. Our study validated the fact that the use of well-defined IDPNs with NIR laser treatment could be a promising strategy for the early diagnosis and passive tumor-targeted chemo-photothermal therapy for cancer.

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