Type of pH sensitive linker reveals different time-dependent intracellular localization, in vitro and in vivo efficiency in alpha-fetoprotein receptor targeted doxorubicin conjugate

Int J Pharm. 2019 Mar 25;559:138-146. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2018.12.073. Epub 2018 Dec 30.


Despite the presence of a variety of modern anticancer drugs at the market, doxorubicin (Dox) is still widely used in antineoplastic therapy, although its administration causes severe side effects. To enhance specific activity of such molecules, various approaches have been exploited: targeted moieties like monoclonal antibodies, onco-specific proteins and peptides are utilized as specific vector molecules; environment sensitive linkers are exploited to facilitate transported drug release at the target point etc. Acid-labile linkers are frequently used in synthesis due to the ability to be cleaved inside specific cellular compartments with acidic environment, avoiding possible recycling mechanisms. Two types of conjugates containing different acid-labile linkers have been synthesized. In vitro efficiency of doxorubicin conjugates with recombinant receptor-binding domain of human alpha-fetoprotein (3dAFPpG) synthesized with use of cis-aconitic anhydride (CAA) and linker based on succinimidyl 3-(2-pyridyldithio)propionate (SPDP) and 3-(2-pyridyldithio)propionic acid hydrazide (PDPH) was compared. The 3dAFPpG-SPDP-PDPH-Dox revealed a comparable with unmodified doxorubicin cytotoxic effect against the Dox sensitive MCF7 cell line and greater cytotoxicity against the anthracycline resistant MCF7Adr cells. Meanwhile the 3dAFPpG-CAA-Dox cytotoxic effect was significantly lower, although doxorubicin's pH-dependent release profiles and intracellular accumulation rates were similar. These differences in cytotoxic activity were arguably explained by the dissimilarities in intracellular doxorubicin localization, which may originate from thiol reductase activity in lysosomes and late endosomes.

Keywords: Acid-labile linkers; Alpha-fetoprotein 3rd domain; Doxorubicin; Drug delivery; Tumor targeting.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / chemistry
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Doxorubicin / chemistry*
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology*
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • alpha-Fetoproteins / metabolism*


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • alpha-Fetoproteins
  • Doxorubicin