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DOI: 10.1101/2023.05.22.541491

pH-responsive upconversion mesoporous silica nanospheres for combined multimodal diagnostic imaging and targeted photodynamic and photothermal cancer therapy

L.Palanikumar M. Kalmouni T. Houhou ...+6 M. Magzoub
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) and photothermal therapy (PTT) have garnered considerable interest as non-invasive cancer treatment modalities. However, these approaches remain limited by low solubility, poor stability and inefficient targeting of many common photosensitizers (PSs) and photothermal agents (PTAs). To overcome these limitations, we have designed biocompatible and biodegradable tumor-targeted upconversion nanospheres with imaging capabilities. The multifunctional nanospheres consist of a sodium yttrium fluoride core doped with lanthanides (ytterbium, erbium and gadolinium) and bismuth selenide (NaYF4:Yb/Er/Gd,Bi2Se3) within a mesoporous silica shell that encapsulates a PS, Chlorin e6 (Ce6), in its pores. NaYF4:Yb/Er converts deeply penetrating near-infrared (NIR) light to visible light, which excites the Ce6 to generate cytotoxic reactive oxygen species (ROS), while the PTA Bi2Se3 efficiently converts absorbed NIR light to heat. Additionally, Gd enables magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the nanospheres. The mesoporous silica shell is coated with lipid/polyethylene glycol (DPPC/cholesterol/DSPE-PEG) to ensure retention of the encapsulated Ce6 and minimize interactions with serum proteins and macrophages that impede tumor targeting. Finally, the coat is functionalized with the acidity-triggered rational membrane (ATRAM) peptide, which promotes specific and efficient internalization into cancer cells within the mildly acidic tumor microenvironment. Following uptake by cancer cells in vitro, NIR laser irradiation of the nanospheres caused substantial cytotoxicity due to ROS production and hyperthermia. The nanospheres facilitated tumor MRI and thermal imaging, and exhibited potent NIR laser light-induced antitumor effects in vivo via combined PDT and PTT, with no observable toxicity to healthy tissue, thereby substantially prolonging survival. Our results demonstrate that the ATRAM-functionalized, lipid/PEG-coated upconversion mesoporous silica nanospheres (ALUMSNs) offer multimodal diagnostic imaging and targeted combinatorial cancer therapy.