Effect ofN-acetylgalactosamine ligand valency on targeting dendrimers to hepatic cancer cells

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The display of N-acetylgalactosamine (NAcGal) ligands has shown great potential in improving the targeting of various therapeutic molecules to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a severe disease whose clinical treatment is severely hindered by limitations in delivery of therapeutic cargo. We previously used the display of NAcGal on generation 5 (G5) polyamidoamine (PAMAM) dendrimers connected through a poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) brush (i.e. G5-cPEG-NAcGal; monoGal) to effectively target hepatic cancer cells and deliver a loaded therapeutic cargo. In this study, we were interested to see if tri-valent NAcGal ligands (i.e. NAcGal3) displayed on G5 dendrimers (i.e. G5-cPEG-NAcGal3; triGal) could improve their ability to target hepatic cancer cells compared to their monoGal counterparts. We therefore synthesized a library of triGal particles, with either 2, 4, 6, 8, 11, or 14 targeting branches (i.e. cPEG-NAcGal3) attached. Conventional flow cytometry studies showed that all particle formulations can label hepatic cancer cells in a concentration-dependent manner, reaching 90–100% of cells labeled at either 285 or 570nM G5, but interestingly, monoGal labeled more cells at lower concentrations. To elucidate the difference in internalization of monoGal versus triGal conjugates, we turned to multi-spectral imaging flow cytometry and quantified the amount of internalized (I) versus surface-bound (I0) conjugates to determine the ratio of internalization (I/I0) in all treatment groups. Results show that regardless of NAcGal valency, or the density of targeting branches, all particles achieve full internalization and diffuse localization throughout the cell (I/I0˜3.0 for all particle compositions). This indicates that while tri-valent NAcGal is a promising technique for targeting nanoparticles to hepatic cancer cells, mono-valent NAcGal is more efficient, contrary to what is observed with small molecules.

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