Cargo-Free Nanoparticles Containing Cationic Lipids Induce Reactive Oxygen Species and Cell Death in HepG2 Cells

Biol Pharm Bull. 2016;39(8):1338-46. doi: 10.1248/bpb.b16-00264.


Nanoparticles (NPs) containing cationic monovalent lipids such as 1,2-dioleoyl-3-trimethylammonium-propane (DOTAP) and N-(1-[2,3-dioleyloxy]propyl)-N,N,N-trimethylammonium chloride (DOTMA), have been widely used for the delivery of nucleic acid such as small-interfering RNA and polypeptide to cells as cancer therapies and vaccine development. Several previous reports have suggested that cationic liposomes induce reactive oxygen species (ROS) and ROS-mediated toxicity in cells. Here, we systematically investigated the effects of DOTAP- or DOTMA-containing NPs without any cargo on the human carcinoma cells, HepG2. Treatment with NPs containing DOTAP or DOTMA increased the production of cellular ROS, such as H2O2 and lipid peroxidation, in HepG2 cells and concomitantly decreased cell viability. These effects were dependent on the lipid concentration, surface density of cationic lipids, and particle size of NPs. However, neutral NPs consisting of 1,2-dioleoyl-3-phosphocholine did not elicit the effective ROS generation or cell death regardless of the lipid concentration and particle size. The present study suggests that DOTAP- and DOTMA-NPs are able to induce cancer cell death through production of ROS in the absence of any therapeutic cancer reagents. These results also provide a rational background for the design of delivery systems using cationic lipid-based NP formulations.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / pharmacology*
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Nanoparticles* / chemistry
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / chemistry
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / pharmacology*


  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • N-(1-(2,3-dioleyloxy)propyl)-N,N,N-trimethylammonium
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • 1,2-dioleoyloxy-3-(trimethylammonium)propane