Self-assembled amphiphilic zein-lactoferrin micelles for tumor targeted co-delivery of rapamycin and wogonin to breast cancer

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Graphical abstractProtein-based micelles have shown significant potential for tumor-targeted delivery of anti-cancer drugs. In this light, self-assembled nanocarriers based on GRAS (Generally recognized as safe) amphiphilic protein co-polymers were synthesized via carbodiimide coupling reaction. The new nano-platform is composed of the following key components: (i) hydrophobic zein core to encapsulate the hydrophobic drugs rapamycin (RAP) and wogonin (WOG) with high encapsulation efficiency, (ii) hydrophilic lactoferrin (Lf) corona to enhance the tumor targeting, and prolong systemic circulation of the nanocarriers, and (iii) glutaraldehyde (GLA)-crosslinking to reduce the particle size and improve micellar stability. Zein-Lf micelles showed relatively rapid release of WOG followed by slower diffusion of RAP from zein core. This sequential release may aid in efflux pump inhibition by WOG thus sensitizing tumor cells to RAP action. Interestingly, these micelles showed good hemocompatibility as well as enhanced serum stability owing to the brush-like architecture of Lf shell. Moreover, this combined nano-delivery system maximized synergistic cytotoxicity of RAP and WOG in terms of tumor inhibition in MCF-7 breast cancer cells and Ehrlich ascites tumor animal model as a result of enhanced active targeting. Collectively, GLA-crosslinked zein-Lf micelles hold great promise for combined RAP/WOG delivery to breast cancer with reduced drug dose, minimized side effects and maximized anti-tumor efficacy.

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