Biological response and cytotoxicity induced by lipid nanocapsules

J Nanobiotechnology. 2020 Jan 6;18(1):5. doi: 10.1186/s12951-019-0567-y.


Background: Lipid nanocapsules (LNCs) are promising vehicles for drug delivery. However, since not much was known about cellular toxicity of these nanoparticles in themselves, we have here investigated the mechanisms involved in LNC-induced intoxication of the three breast cancer cell lines MCF-7, MDA-MD-231 and MDA-MB-468. The LNCs used were made of Labrafac™ Lipophile WL1349, Lipoid® S75 and Solutol® HS15.

Results: High resolution SIM microscopy showed that the DiD-labeled LNCs ended up in lysosomes close to the membrane. Empty LNCs, i.e. without encapsulated drug, induced not only increased lysosomal pH, but also acidification of the cytosol and a rapid inhibition of protein synthesis. The cytotoxicity of the LNCs were measured for up to 72 h of incubation using the MTT assay and ATP measurements in all three cell lines, and revealed that MDA-MB-468 was the most sensitive cell line and MCF-7 the least sensitive cell line to these LNCs. The LNCs induced generation of reactive free oxygen species and lipid peroxidation. Experiments with knock-down of kinases in the near-haploid cell line HAP1 indicated that the kinase HRI is essential for the observed phosphorylation of eIF2α. Nrf2 and ATF4 seem to play a protective role against the LNCs in MDA-MB-231 cells, as knock-down of these factors sensitizes the cells to the LNCs. This is in contrast to MCF-7 cells where the knock-down of these factors had a minor effect on the toxicity of the LNCs. Inhibitors of ferroptosis provided a large protection against LNC toxicity in MDA-MB-231 cells, but not in MCF-7 cells.

Conclusions: High doses of LNCs showed a different degree of toxicity on the three cell lines studied, i.e. MCF-7, MDA-MD-231 and MDA-MB-468 and affected signaling factors and the cell fate differently in these cell lines.

Keywords: Breast cancer cells; Ferroptosis; Lipid nanocapsules; Stress responses.

MeSH terms

  • Activating Transcription Factor 4 / metabolism
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Endocytosis / drug effects
  • Ferroptosis / drug effects
  • Homeostasis / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lipids / toxicity*
  • Lysosomes / drug effects
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Nanocapsules / toxicity*
  • Nanocapsules / ultrastructure
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological / drug effects


  • ATF4 protein, human
  • Lipids
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • Nanocapsules
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Activating Transcription Factor 4