Non-covalent strategies to functionalize polymeric nanoparticles with NGR peptides for targeting breast cancer

Surface functionalization of nanoparticles (NPs) with tumor-targeting peptides is an emerging approach with a huge potential to translate in the clinic and ameliorate the efficacy of nano-oncologicals. One major challenge is to find straightforward strategies for anchoring peptides on the surface of biodegradable NPs and ensuring their correct exposure and orientation to bind the target receptor. Here, we propose a non-covalent strategy to functionalize polyester aminic NPs based on the formation of either electrostatic or lipophilic interactions between NPs and the peptide modified with an anchoring moiety. We selected an iNGRt peptide containing a CendR motif (CRNGR) targeting neuropilin receptor 1 (NRP-1), which is upregulated in several cancers. iNGRt was linked with either a short poly(glutamic acid) chain (polyE) or a palmitoyl chain (Palm) and used to functionalize the surface of NPs made of a diamine poly(ε-caprolactone). iNGRt-PolyE was adsorbed on preformed cationic NPs through electrostatic interaction, whereas iNGRt-Palm was integrated into the forming NPs through interactions. In both cases, peptides were strongly associated with NPs of ∼100 nm, low polydispersity indexes, and positive zeta potential values. NPs entered MDA-MB231 breast cancer cells overexpressing NRP-1 via receptor-mediated endocytosis and showed a different cell localization depending on the mode of peptide anchoring. When loaded with the lipophilic anticancer drug docetaxel (DTX), NPs functionalized with the iNGRt-Palm variant exerted a time- and dose-dependent cytotoxicity similar to DTX in MDA-MB-231 cells but were less toxic than DTX toward control MRC-5 human fibroblasts, not expressing NRP-1. In a heterotopic mouse model of triple negative breast cancer, iNGRt-Palm NPs were tolerated better than free DTX and demonstrated superior anticancer activity and survival compared to both free DTX and NPs without peptide functionalization. We foresee that the functionalization strategy with palmitoylated peptides proposed here can be extended to other biodegradable NPs and peptide sequences designed for therapeutic or targeting purposes.

International Journal of Pharmaceutics Volume 633, 25 February 2023, 122618

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