In cancer treatment, polymeric nanoparticles (NPs) can serve as a vehicle for the delivery of cytotoxic proteins that have intracellular targets but that lack well-defined mechanisms for cellular internalization, such as saporin. In this work, we have prepared PEGylated poly(lactic acid- co-glycolic acid- co-hydroxymethyl glycolic acid) (PLGHMGA) NPs for the selective delivery of saporin in the cytosol of HER2 positive cancer cells. This selective uptake was achieved by decorating the surface of the NPs with the 11A4 nanobody that is specific for the HER2 receptor. Confocal microscopy observations showed rapid and extensive uptake of the targeted NPs (11A4-NPs) by HER2 positive cells (SkBr3) but not by HER2 negative cells (MDA-MB-231). This selective uptake was blocked upon preincubation of the cells with an excess of nanobody. Nontargeted NPs (Cys-NPs) were not taken up by either type of cells. Importantly, a dose-dependent cytotoxic effect was only observed on SkBr3 cells when these were treated with saporin-loaded 11A4-NPs in combination with photochemical internalization (PCI), a technique that uses a photosensitizer and local light exposure to facilitate endosomal escape of entrapped nanocarriers and biomolecules. The combined use of saporin-loaded 11A4-NPs and PCI strongly inhibited cell proliferation and decreased cell viability through induction of apoptosis. Also the cytotoxic effect could be reduced by an excess of nanobody, reinforcing the selectivity of this system. These results suggest that the combination of the targeting nanobody on the NPs with PCI are effective means to achieve selective uptake and cytotoxicity of saporin-loaded NPs.
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