The complex role of multivalency in nanoparticles targeting the transferrin receptor for cancer therapies

J Am Chem Soc. 2010 Aug 18;132(32):11306-13. doi: 10.1021/ja1043177.


Transferrin receptor (TfR, CD71) has long been a therapeutic target due to its overexpression in many malignant tissues. In this study, PRINT() nanoparticles were conjugated with TfR ligands for targeted drug delivery. Cylindrical poly(ethylene glycol)-based PRINT nanoparticles (diameter (d) = 200 nm, height (h) = 200 nm) labeled with transferrin receptor antibody (NP-OKT9) or human transferrin (NP-hTf) showed highly specific TfR-mediated uptake by all human tumor cell lines tested, relative to negative controls (IgG1 for OKT9 or bovine transferrin (bTf) for hTf). The targeting efficiency was dependent on particle concentration, ligand density, dosing time, and cell surface receptor expression level. Interestingly, NP-OKT9 or NP-hTf showed little cytotoxicity on all solid tumor cell lines tested but were very toxic to Ramos B-cell lymphoma, whereas free OKT9 or hTf was not toxic. There was a strong correlation between TfR ligand density on the particle surface and cell viability and particle uptake. NP-OKT9 and NP-hTf were internalized into acidic intracellular compartments but were not localized in EEA1-enriched early endosomes or lysosomes. Elevated caspase 3/7 activity indicates activation of apoptosis pathways upon particle treatment. Supplementation of iron suppressed the toxicity of NP-OKT9 but not NP-hTf, suggesting different mechanisms by which NP-hTf and NP-OKT9 exerts cytotoxicity on Ramos cells. On the basis of such an observation, the complex role of multivalency in nanoparticles is discussed. In addition, our data clearly reveal that one must be careful in making claims of "lack of toxicity" when a targeting molecule is used on nanoparticles and also raise concerns for unanticipated off-target effects when one is designing targeted chemotherapy nanodelivery agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Biological Transport
  • Cattle
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ligands
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / drug therapy*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / metabolism*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / pathology
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity
  • Nanotechnology / methods*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / metabolism*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / pharmacology
  • Polyethylene Glycols / toxicity
  • Receptors, Transferrin / metabolism*


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Polyethylene Glycols