Spermine-Responsive Intracellular Self-Aggregation of Gold Nanocages for Enhanced Chemotherapy and Photothermal Therapy of Breast Cancer

Small. 2022 Jul;18(30):e2201971. doi: 10.1002/smll.202201971. Epub 2022 Jun 11.


Improving the precise accumulation and retention of nanomedicines in tumor cells is one of the keys to effective therapy of tumors. Herein, supramolecular peptides capped Au nanocages (AuNCs) that may self-aggregate into micron-sized clusters intracellularly in response to spermine (SPM), leading to specific accumulation and retention of AuNCs in SPM-overexpressed tumor cells, are developed. In this design, polydopamine (PDA) is in situ coated on the surface of AuNCs with doxorubicin (DOX) encapsulated. A small peptide, Phe-Phe-Val-Leu-Lys (FFVLK), is conjugated with PDA via esterification, and cucurbit[7]uril (CB[7]) is threaded onto the N-terminal Phe via host-guest interactions. Once the supramolecular peptide (CB[7]-FFVLK) capped AuNCs are internalized in SPM-overexpressed breast cancer cells, CB[7] can be competitively removed from FFVLK by SPM, due to the much higher binding affinity between CB[7] and SPM than that between CB[7] and Phe, leading to exposure of free FFVLK, which can subsequently self-assemble and induce the aggregation of AuNCs to micron-sized clusters, resulting in the significantly enhanced accumulation and retention of DOX-loaded AuNCs in tumor cells. Under NIR laser irradiation, the enhanced photothermal conversion of AuNCs aggregates, together with photothermia-induced release of DOX leads to synergistic photothermal therapy and chemotherapy against breast cancer.

Keywords: Au nanocages; cancer therapy; cucurbituril; self-aggregation; stimuli-responsive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Doxorubicin / chemistry
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology
  • Doxorubicin / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Gold* / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Phototherapy / methods
  • Photothermal Therapy
  • Spermine


  • Spermine
  • Gold
  • Doxorubicin