A Genomic Profile of Local Immunity in the Melanoma Microenvironment Following Treatment with α Particle-Emitting Ultrasmall Silica Nanoparticles

Cancer Biother Radiopharm. 2020 Aug;35(6):459-473. doi: 10.1089/cbr.2019.3150. Epub 2020 Feb 3.


An α particle-emitting nanodrug that is a potent and specific antitumor agent and also prompts significant remodeling of local immunity in the tumor microenvironment (TME) has been developed and may impact the treatment of melanoma. Biocompatible ultrasmall fluorescent core-shell silica nanoparticles (C' dots, diameter ∼6.0 nm) have been engineered to target the melanocortin-1 receptor expressed on melanoma through α melanocyte-stimulating hormone peptides attached to the C' dot surface. Actinium-225 is also bound to the nanoparticle to deliver a densely ionizing dose of high-energy α particles to cancer. Nanodrug pharmacokinetic properties are optimal for targeted radionuclide therapy as they exhibit rapid blood clearance, tumor-specific accumulation, minimal off-target localization, and renal elimination. Potent and specific tumor control, arising from the α particles, was observed in a syngeneic animal model of melanoma. Surprisingly, the C' dot component of this drug initiates a favorable pseudopathogenic response in the TME generating distinct changes in the fractions of naive and activated CD8 T cells, Th1 and regulatory T cells, immature dendritic cells, monocytes, MΦ and M1 macrophages, and activated natural killer cells. Concomitant upregulation of the inflammatory cytokine genome and adaptive immune pathways each describes a macrophage-initiated pseudoresponse to a viral-shaped pathogen. This study suggests that therapeutic α-particle irradiation of melanoma using ultrasmall functionalized core-shell silica nanoparticles potently kills tumor cells, and at the same time initiates a distinct immune response in the TME.

Keywords: Actinium-225; C′ dot; T cell; immunotherapy; macrophage; melanoma; natural killer cell; pseudopathogen; tumor microenvironment; ultrasmall silica nanoparticles; α particle.

MeSH terms

  • Actinium / administration & dosage
  • Actinium / pharmacokinetics
  • Alpha Particles / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor / transplantation
  • Computational Biology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Drug Carriers / chemistry*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / immunology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular / genetics
  • Immunity, Cellular / radiation effects
  • Male
  • Maximum Tolerated Dose
  • Melanoma, Experimental / genetics
  • Melanoma, Experimental / immunology
  • Melanoma, Experimental / pathology
  • Melanoma, Experimental / radiotherapy*
  • Mice
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • RNA-Seq
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / administration & dosage*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / pharmacokinetics
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / metabolism
  • Silicon Dioxide / chemistry
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms / immunology
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Skin Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology
  • Tumor Microenvironment / radiation effects*


  • Actinium-225
  • Drug Carriers
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Actinium