Modulation of nanoparticle uptake, intracellular distribution, and retention with docetaxel to enhance radiotherapy

Br J Radiol. 2020 Feb 1;93(1106):20190742. doi: 10.1259/bjr.20190742. Epub 2019 Dec 12.


Objective: One of the major issues in current radiotherapy (RT) is the normal tissue toxicity. A smart combination of agents within the tumor would allow lowering the RT dose required while minimizing the damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. We chose gold nanoparticles (GNPs) and docetaxel (DTX) as our choice of two radiosensitizing agents. They have a different mechanism of action which could lead to a synergistic effect. Our first goal was to assess the variation in GNP uptake, distribution, and retention in the presence of DTX. Our second goal was to assess the therapeutic results of the triple combination, RT/GNPs/DTX.

Methods: We used HeLa and MDA-MB-231 cells for our study. Cells were incubated with GNPs (0.2 nM) in the absence and presence of DTX (50 nM) for 24 h to determine uptake, distribution, and retention of NPs. For RT experiments, treated cells were given a 2 Gy dose of 6 MV photons using a linear accelerator.

Results: Concurrent treatment of DTX and GNPs resulted in over 85% retention of GNPs in tumor cells. DTX treatment also forced GNPs to be closer to the most important target, the nucleus, resulting in a decrease in cell survival and increase in DNA damage with the triple combination of RT/ GNPs/DTX vs RT/DTX. Our experimental therapeutic results were supported by Monte Carlo simulations.

Conclusion: The ability to not only trap GNPs at clinically feasible doses but also to retain them within the cells could lead to meaningful fractionated treatments in future combined cancer therapy. Furthermore, the suggested triple combination of RT/GNPs/DTX may allow lowering the RT dose to spare surrounding healthy tissue.

Advances in knowledge: This is the first study to show intracellular GNP transport disruption by DTX, and its advantage in radiosensitization.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects
  • Docetaxel / pharmacokinetics
  • Docetaxel / pharmacology*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Female
  • Gold / pharmacokinetics
  • Gold / pharmacology*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Metal Nanoparticles*
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents / pharmacology*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / radiotherapy


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents
  • Docetaxel
  • Gold