Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third most common cause of cancer related mortality worldwide. 9-Nitrocamptothecin (9NC) is a potent topoisomerase-I inhibitor with strong anticancer effect. To increase the solubility and stability, we synthesized a novel 9NC loaded liposomes (9NC-LP) via incorporating 9NC into liposomes. In the present study, we determined the effects of 9NC and 9NC-LP on in vitro and in vivo, and the underlying mechanisms.
Methodology/principal findings: We first analyzed the characteristics of 9NC-LP. Then we compared the effects of 9NC and 9NC-LP on the proliferation and apoptosis of HepG2, Bel-7402, Hep3B and L02 cells in vitro. We also investigated their anticancer properties in nude mice bearing HCC xenograft in vivo. 9NC-LP has a uniform size (around 190 nm) and zeta potential (∼-11 mV), and exhibited a steady sustained-release pattern profile in vitro. Both 9NC and 9NC-LP could cause cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in a dose-dependent and p53-dependent manner. However, this effect was not ubiquitous in all cell lines. Exposure to 9NC-LP led to increased expression of p53, p21, p27, Bax, caspase-3, caspase-8, caspase-9 and apoptosis-inducing factor, mitochondrion-associated 1 and decreased expression of Bcl-2, cyclin E, cyclin A, Cdk2 and cyclin D1. Furthermore, 9NC-LP exhibited a more potent antiproliferative effect and less side effects in vivo. Western blot analysis of the xenograft tumors in nude mice showed similar changes in protein expression in vivo.
Conclusions/significance: In conclusion, 9NC and 9NC-LP can inhibit HCC growth via cell cycle arrest and induction of apoptosis. 9NC-LP has a more potent anti-tumor effect and fewer side effects in vivo, which means it is a promising reagent for cancer therapy via intravenous administration.