Assessment of superiority of HSP70-targeting aptamer-functionalized drug-nanocarrier over non-targeted commercially available counterpart in HCC therapy: in vitro and in vivo investigations and molecular modeling

Life Sci. 2023 Mar 15:317:121467. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2023.121467. Epub 2023 Feb 1.


Aims: This research aims to compare the therapeutic potential of target-specific phosphorothioate backbone-modified aptamer L5 (TLS9a)-functionalized paclitaxel (PTX)-loaded nanocarrier (PTX-NPL5) that we formulated with that of non-targeted commercial formulation, protein albumin-bound nanoparticles of PTX, Abraxane® (CF) against hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) through a myriad of preclinical investigations.

Main methods: A variety of in vitro and in vivo assays have been executed to compare the therapeutic effects of the formulations under investigation, including the investigation of the degree of apoptosis induction and its mechanism, cell cycle analysis, the level of ROS production, and redox status, the morphological and histological characteristics of malignant livers, and in vivo imaging. The formulations were also compared concerning pharmacokinetic behaviors. Finally, in silico molecular docking has been performed to predict the possible interactions between aptamer and target(s).

Key findings: PTX-NPL5 exhibited therapeutic superiority over CF in terms of inducing apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, endorsing oxidative stress to neoplastic cells, and reducing hepatic cancerous lesions. Unlike CF, PTX-NPL5 did not exhibit any significant toxicity in healthy hepatocytes, proving enough impetus regarding the distinctive superiority of PTX-NPL5 over CF. The pharmacokinetic analysis further supported superior penetration and retention of PTX-NPL5 in neoplastic hepatocytes compared to CF. A molecular modeling study proposed possible interaction between aptamer L5 and heat shock protein 70 (HSP70).

Significance: The target-specificity of PTX-NPL5 towards neoplastic hepatocytes, probably achieved through HSP70 recognition, enhanced its therapeutic efficacy over CF, which may facilitate its real clinical deployment against HCC in the near future.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Aptamer; HSP70; Hepatocarcinogenesis; Paclitaxel; Targeted therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / drug therapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Nanoparticles*
  • Paclitaxel / pharmacology


  • Paclitaxel