Tumor-homing peptides can be used to deliver drugs into tumors. Phage library screening in live mice has recently identified homing peptides that specifically recognize the endothelium of tumor vessels, extravasate, and penetrate deep into the extravascular tumor tissue. The prototypic peptide of this class, iRGD (CRGDKGPDC), contains the integrin-binding RGD motif. RGD mediates tumor-homing through binding to αv integrins, which are selectively expressed on various cells in tumors, including tumor endothelial cells. The tumor-penetrating properties of iRGD are mediated by a second sequence motif, R/KXXR/K. This C-end Rule (or CendR) motif is active only when the second basic residue is exposed at the C-terminus of the peptide. Proteolytic processing of iRGD in tumors activates the cryptic CendR motif, which then binds to neuropilin-1 activating an endocytic bulk transport pathway through tumor tissue. Phage screening has also yielded tumor-penetrating peptides that function like iRGD in activating the CendR pathway, but bind to a different primary receptor. Moreover, novel tumor-homing peptides can be constructed from tumor-homing motifs, CendR elements and protease cleavage sites. Pathologies other than tumors can be targeted with tissue-penetrating peptides, and the primary receptor can also be a vascular "zip code" of a normal tissue. The CendR technology provides a solution to a major problem in tumor therapy, poor penetration of drugs into tumors. The tumor-penetrating peptides are capable of taking a payload deep into tumor tissue in mice, and they also penetrate into human tumors ex vivo. Targeting with these peptides specifically increases the accumulation in tumors of a variety of drugs and contrast agents, such as doxorubicin, antibodies, and nanoparticle-based compounds. Remarkably the drug to be targeted does not have to be coupled to the peptide; the bulk transport system activated by the peptide sweeps along any compound that is present in the blood.
Keywords: C-end Rule; homing peptide; neuropilin-1; synaphic targeting; tumor-penetrating peptide; αv integrins.