Bacterial Flagellum-Drug Nanoconjugates for Carrier-Free Immunochemotherapy

Small. 2023 Nov 2:e2306303. doi: 10.1002/smll.202306303. Online ahead of print.


The combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy to ablate tumors has attracted substantial attention due to the ability to simultaneously elicit antitumor immune responses and trigger direct tumor cell death. However, conventional combinational strategies mainly focus on the employment of drug carriers to deliver immunomodulators, chemotherapeutics, or their combinations, always suffering from complicated preparation and carrier-relevant side effects. Here, the fabrication of bacterial flagellum-drug nanoconjugates (FDNCs) for carrier-free immunochemotherapy is described. FDNCs are simply prepared by attaching chemotherapeutics to amine residues of flagellin through an acid-sensitive and traceless cis-aconityl linker. By virtue of native nanofibrous structure and immunogenicity, bacterial flagella not only show long-term tumor retention and highly efficient cell internalization, but also provoke robust systemic antitumor immune responses. Meanwhile, conjugated chemotherapeutics exhibit an acid-mediated release profile and durable intratumoral exposure, which can induce potent tumor cell inhibition via direct killing. More importantly, this combination is able to augment immunoactivation effects associated with chemotherapy-enabled immunogenic tumor cell death to further enhance antitumor efficacy. By leveraging the innate response of the immune system to pathogens, the conjugation of therapeutic agents with self-adjuvant bacterial flagella provides an alternative approach to develop carrier-free nanotherapeutics for tumor immunochemotherapy.

Keywords: bacterial flagellum; carrier free; drug conjugate; self-adjuvant; tumor immunochemotherapy.