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Tumor Endothelial Cell-Specific Drug Delivery System Using Apelin-Conjugated Liposomes

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065499
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Drug Discovery
  • Biotechnology
  • Histology
  • Model Organisms
  • Animal Models
  • Mouse
  • Molecular Cell Biology
  • Cellular Types
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Medicine
  • Cardiovascular
  • Drugs And Devices
  • Drug Research And Development
  • Oncology


Background A drug delivery system specifically targeting endothelial cells (ECs) in tumors is required to prevent normal blood vessels from being damaged by angiogenesis inhibitors. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether apelin, a ligand for APJ expressed in ECs when angiogenesis is taking place, can be used for targeting drug delivery to ECs in tumors. Methods and Results Uptake of apelin via APJ stably expressed in NIH-3T3 cells was investigated using TAMRA (fluorescent probe)-conjugated apelin. Both long and short forms of apelin (apelin 36 and apelin 13) were taken up, the latter more effectively. To improve efficacy of apelin- liposome conjugates, we introduced cysteine, with its sulfhydryl group, to the C terminus of apelin 13, resulting in the generation of apelin 14. In turn, apelin 14 was conjugated to rhodamine-encapsulating liposomes and administered to tumor-bearing mice. In the tumor microenvironment, we confirmed that liposomes were incorporated into the cytoplasm of ECs. In contrast, apelin non-conjugated liposomes were rarely found in the cytoplasm of ECs. Moreover, non-specific uptake of apelin-conjugated liposomes was rarely detected in other normal organs. Conclusions ECs in normal organs express little APJ; however, upon hypoxic stimulation, such as in tumors, ECs start to express APJ. The present study suggests that apelin could represent a suitable tool to effectively deliver drugs specifically to ECs within tumors.

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