Hyaluronated and PEGylated Liposomes as a Potential Drug-Delivery Strategy to Specifically Target Liver Cancer and Inflammatory Cells

Molecules. 2022 Feb 4;27(3):1062. doi: 10.3390/molecules27031062.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most frequent primary liver cancer and is characterized by poor clinical outcomes, with the majority of patients not being eligible for curative therapy and treatments only being applicable for early-stage tumors. CD44 is a receptor for hyaluronic acid (HA) and is involved in HCC progression. The aim of this work is to propose HA- and PEGylated-liposomes as promising approaches for the treatment of HCC. It has been found, in this work, that CD44 transcripts are up-regulated in HCC patients, as well as in a murine model of NAFLD/NASH-related hepatocarcinogenesis. Cell culture experiments indicate that HA-liposomes are more rapidly and significantly internalized by Huh7 cells that over-express CD44, compared with HepG2 cells that express low levels of the receptor, in which the uptake seems due to endocytic events. By contrast, human and murine macrophage cell lines (THP-1, RAW264.7) show improved and rapid uptake of PEG-modified liposomes without the involvement of the CD44. Moreover, the internalization of PEG-modified liposomes seems to induce polarization of THP1 towards the M1 phenotype. In conclusion, data reported in this study indicate that this strategy can be proposed as an alternative for drug delivery and one that dually and specifically targets liver cancer cells and infiltrating tumor macrophages in order to counteract two crucial aspect of HCC progression.

Keywords: CD44; HCC; hyaluronic acid; liposomes; macrophages.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronic Acid / chemistry
  • Hyaluronic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Liposomes / administration & dosage*
  • Liposomes / chemistry
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Liver Neoplasms / immunology
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / drug therapy*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / immunology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*


  • Liposomes
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Hyaluronic Acid