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Previous research has shown that gold nanoparticles can increase the effectiveness of radiation on cancer cells. Improved radiation effectiveness would allow lower radiation doses given to patients, reducing adverse effects; alternatively, it would provide more cancer killing at current radiation doses. Damage from radiation and gold nanoparticles depends in part on the Auger effect, which is very localized; thus, it is important to place the gold nanoparticles on or in the cancer cells. In this work, we use the pH-sensitive, tumor-targeting agent, pH Low-Insertion Peptide (pHLIP), to tether 1.4-nm gold nanoparticles to cancer cells. We find that the conjugation of pHLIP to gold nanoparticles increases gold uptake in cells compared with gold nanoparticles without pHLIP, with the nanoparticles distributed mostly on the cellular membranes. We further find that gold nanoparticles conjugated to pHLIP produce a statistically significant decrease in cell survival with radiation compared with cells without gold nanoparticles and cells with gold alone. In the context of our previous findings demonstrating efficient pHLIP-mediated delivery of gold nanoparticles to tumors, the obtained results serve as a foundation for further preclinical evaluation of dose enhancement.

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Freely available online through the PNAS open access option. © 2015 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA


Natallia Katenka is from the was Department of Computer Science and Statistics.

Dayanjali D. Wijeshinghe, Samana Shrestha, Oleg A. Andreev and Yana K. Reshetnyak are from the Department of Physics.