Iron Oxide Nanoparticles Inhibit Tumor Progression and Suppress Lung Metastases in Mouse Models of Breast Cancer

ACS Nano. 2024 Apr 16;18(15):10509-10526. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.3c12064. Epub 2024 Apr 2.


Systemic exposure to starch-coated iron oxide nanoparticles (IONPs) can stimulate antitumor T cell responses, even when little IONP is retained within the tumor. Here, we demonstrate in mouse models of metastatic breast cancer that IONPs can alter the host immune landscape, leading to systemic immune-mediated disease suppression. We report that a single intravenous injection of IONPs can inhibit primary tumor growth, suppress metastases, and extend survival. Gene expression analysis revealed the activation of Toll-like receptor (TLR) pathways involving signaling via Toll/Interleukin-1 receptor domain-containing adaptor-inducing IFN-β (TRIF), a TLR pathway adaptor protein. Requisite participation of TRIF in suppressing tumor progression was demonstrated with histopathologic evidence of upregulated IFN-regulatory factor 3 (IRF3), a downstream protein, and confirmed in a TRIF knockout syngeneic mouse model of metastatic breast cancer. Neither starch-coated polystyrene nanoparticles lacking iron, nor iron-containing dextran-coated parenteral iron replacement agent, induced significant antitumor effects, suggesting a dependence on the type of IONP formulation. Analysis of multiple independent clinical databases supports a hypothesis that upregulation of TLR3 and IRF3 correlates with increased overall survival among breast cancer patients. Taken together, these data support a compelling rationale to re-examine IONP formulations as harboring anticancer immune (nano)adjuvant properties to generate a therapeutic benefit without requiring uptake by cancer cells.

Keywords: Breast cancer metastasis; Iron oxide nanoparticles; T cell signaling; Toll-like receptors; Toll/interleukin-1 receptor-domain-containing adaptor-inducing interferon-β (TRIF).

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Vesicular Transport / genetics
  • Adaptor Proteins, Vesicular Transport / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron
  • Lung Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Magnetic Iron Oxide Nanoparticles
  • Mice
  • Starch
  • Toll-Like Receptor 3 / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / metabolism


  • Toll-Like Receptor 3
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4
  • Adaptor Proteins, Vesicular Transport
  • Iron
  • Starch