Transferrin and octaarginine modified dual-functional liposomes with improved cancer cell targeting and enhanced intracellular delivery for the treatment of ovarian cancer

Off-target effects of drugs severely limit cancer therapy. Targeted nanocarriers are promising to enhance the delivery of therapeutics to tumors. Among many approaches for active tumor-targeting, arginine-rich cell penetrating peptides (AR-CPP) and ligands specific to target over-expressed receptors on cancer-cell surfaces, are popular. Earlier, we showed that the attachment of an AR-CPP octaarginine (R8) to the surface of DOXIL® (Doxorubicin encapsulated PEGylated liposomes) improved cytoplasmic and nuclear DOX delivery that enhanced the cytotoxic effect in vitro and improved therapeutic efficacy in vivo. Here, we report on DOX-loaded liposomes, surface-modified with, R8 and transferrin (Tf) (Dual DOX-L), to improve targeting of A2780 ovarian carcinoma cells via the over-expressed transferrin receptors (TfRs) with R8-mediated intracellular DOX delivery. Flow cytometry analysis with fluorescently labeled DualL (without DOX) showed two-fold higher cancer-cell association than other treatments after 4 h treatment. Blocking entry pathways of R8 (macropinocytosis) and Tf (receptor-mediated endocytosis, RME) resulted in a decreased cancer-cell association of DualL. Confocal microscopy confirmed involvement of both entry pathways and cytoplasmic liposome accumulation with nuclear DOX delivery for Dual DOX-L. Dual DOX-L exhibited enhanced cytotoxicity in vitro and was most effective in controlling tumor growth in vivo in an A2780 ovarian xenograft model compared to other treatments. A pilot biodistribution study showed improved DOX accumulation in tumors after Dual DOX-L treatment. All results collectively presented a clear advantage of the R8 and Tf combination to elevate the therapeutic potential of DOX-L by exploiting TfR over-expression imparting specificity followed by endosomal escape and intracellular delivery via R8.