A multi-functional PEGylated gold(iii) compound: potent anti-cancer properties and self-assembly into nanostructures for drug co-delivery

Chem Sci. 2017 Mar 1;8(3):1942-1953. doi: 10.1039/c6sc03210a. Epub 2016 Nov 22.


Gold(iii) porphyrin-PEG conjugates [Au(TPP-COO-PEG5000-OCH3)]Cl (1) and [Au(TPP-CONH-PEG5000-OCH3)]Cl (2) have been synthesized and characterized. Based on the amphiphilic character of the conjugates, they were found to undergo self-assembly into nanostructures with size 120-200 nm and this did not require the presence of other surfactants or components for nano-assembly, unlike most conventional drug nano-formulations. With a readily hydrolyzable ester linkage, chemotherapeutic [Au(TPP-COOH)]+ exhibited triggered release from the conjugate 1 in acidic buffer solution as well as in vitro and in vivo without the formation of toxic side products. The nanostructures of 1 showed higher cellular uptake into cancer cells compared to non-tumorigenic cells, owing to their energy-dependent uptake mechanism. This, together with a generally higher metabolic rate and more acidic nature of cancer cells which can lead to faster hydrolysis of the ester bond, afforded 1 with excellent selectivity in killing cancer cells compared with non-tumorigenic cells in vitro. This was corroborated by fluorescence microscopy imaging and flow cytometric analysis of co-culture model of colon cancer (HCT116) and normal colon (NCM460) cells. In vivo experiments showed that treatment of nude mice bearing HCT116 xenografts with 1 resulted in significant inhibition of tumor growth and, more importantly, minimal systemic toxicity as revealed by histopathological analysis of tissue sections and blood biochemisty. The latter is explained by a lower accumulation of 1 in organs of treated mice at its effective dosage, as compared to that of other gold(iii) porphyrin complexes. Co-assembly of 1 and doxorubicin resulted in encapsulation of doxorubicin by the nanostructures of 1. The nanocomposites demonstrated a strong synergism on killing cancer cells and could overcome efflux pump-mediated drug-resistance in a doxorubicin-resistant ovarian cancer cell line (A2780adr) which was found in cells incubated with doxorubicin alone. Also, the nanocomposites accumulated more slowly in non-tumorigenic cells, resulting in a lower toxicity toward non-tumorigenic cells. These results indicate the potential application of 1 not only as an anti-cancer agent but also as a nanoscale drug carrier for chemotherapy.