Cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) are elongated biobased nanostructures with unique characteristics that can be explored as nanosystems in cancer treatment. Herein, the synthesis, characterization, and cellular uptake on folate receptor (FR)-positive breast cancer cells of nanosystems based on CNCs and a chitosan (CS) derivative are investigated. The physical adsorption of the CS derivative, containing a targeting ligand (folic acid, FA) and an imaging agent (fluorescein isothiocyanate, FITC), on the surface of the CNCs was studied as an eco-friendly methodology to functionalize CNCs. The fluorescent CNCs/FA-CS-FITC nanosystems with a rod-like morphology showed good stability in simulated physiological and non-physiological conditions and non-cytotoxicity towards MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. These functionalized CNCs presented a concentration-dependent cellular internalization with a 5-fold increase in the fluorescence intensity for the nanosystem with the higher FA content. Furthermore, the exometabolic profile of the MDA-MB-231 cells exposed to the CNCs/FA-CS-FITC nanosystems disclosed a moderate impact on the cells' metabolic activity, limited to decreased choline uptake and increased acetate release, which implies an anti-proliferative effect. The overall results demonstrate that the CNCs/FA-CS-FITC nanosystems, prepared by an eco-friendly approach, have a high affinity towards FR-positive cancer cells and thus might be applied as nanocarriers with imaging properties for active targeted therapy.
Keywords: cellular exometabolomics; cellular uptake; cellulose nanocrystals; chitosan; fluorescein isothiocyanate; folate receptor-positive cancer cells; folic acid; nanosystems; physical adsorption.