Doxorubicin-loaded protease-activated near-infrared fluorescent polymeric nanoparticles for imaging and therapy of cancer.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Despite significant progress in the field of oncology, cancer remains one of the leading causes of death. Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatment options for cancer patients but is well known to result in off-target toxicity. Theranostic nanomedicines that integrate diagnostic and therapeutic functions within an all-in-one platform can increase tumor selectivity for more effective chemotherapy and aid in diagnosis and monitoring of therapeutic responses.

Material and methods

In this work, theranostic nanoparticles were synthesized with commonly used biocompatible and biodegradable polymers and used as cancer contrast and therapeutic agents for optical imaging and treatment of breast cancer. These core-shell nanoparticles were prepared by nanoprecipitation of blends of the biodegradable and biocompatible amphiphilic copolymers poly(lactic-co -glycolic acid)-b -poly-l-lysine and poly(lactic acid)-b -poly(ethylene glycol). Poly-l-lysine in the first copolymer was covalently decorated with near-infrared fluorescent Alexa Fluor 750 molecules.


The spherical nanoparticles had an average size of 60-80 nm. The chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin was encapsulated in the core of nanoparticles at a loading of 3% (w:w) and controllably released over a period of 30 days. A 33-fold increase in near-infrared fluorescence, mediated by protease-mediated cleavage of the Alexa Fluor 750-labeled poly-l-lysine on the surface of the nanoparticles, was observed upon interaction with the model protease trypsin. The cytocompatibility of drug-free nanoparticles and growth inhibition of drug-loaded nanoparticles on MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells were investigated with a luminescence cell-viability assay. Drug-free nanoparticles were found to cause minimal toxicity, even at high concentrations (0.2-2,000 µg/mL), while doxorubicin-loaded nanoparticles significantly reduced cell viability at drug concentrations >10 µM. Finally, the interaction of the nanoparticles with breast cancer cells was studied utilizing fluorescence microscopy, demonstrating the potential of the nanoparticles to act as near-infrared fluorescence optical imaging agents and drug-delivery carriers.


Doxorubicin-loaded, enzymatically activatable nanoparticles of less than 100 nm were prepared successfully by nanoprecipitation of copolymer blends. These nanoparticles were found to be suitable as controlled drug delivery systems and contrast agents for imaging of cancer cells.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Yildiz, T; Gu, R; Zauscher, S; Betancourt, T

Published Date

  • January 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 13 /

Start / End Page

  • 6961 - 6986

PubMed ID

  • 30464453

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC6217908

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1178-2013

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1176-9114

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.2147/ijn.s174068


  • eng