Targeted delivery of embelin to cancer cells
Apoptosis or programmed cell death is vital to the development of organisms as they maintain the balance between cell death and cell growth. Failure to activate apoptosis has been implicated in carcinogenesis and often results from the over expression of anti–cancer proteins such as the X–linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP). XIAP is over expresses in certain cancers and is a potent inhibitor of the initiator caspase 9 and effector caspases 3 and 7. The increased expression of XIAP in cancer cells result in the resistance to apoptosis. The control of XIAP is therefore considered as a target for anti–cancer drug development. Embelin or 2,5–dihydroxy–3–undecyl–1,4–benzoquinoine is a dihydroxyquinone compound that was previously shown to inhibit XIAP. This drug was discovered by structure based computational screening. The binding of embelin to XIAP displaces XIAP from caspases, consequently eliminating the inhibitory effect of XIAP on apoptosis. The objective of this study was to develop a gold nanoparticle that can be used for the targeted delivery of embelin to cancer cells thereby enhancing pro–apoptotic effects of the pro–apoptotic drug, ceramide. XIAP expression levels were investigated by Western blot analysis in a panel of human cancer cell lines available in the laboratory to identify two cell lines that can be used as low and high XIAP expression controls. Gold nanoparticles were synthesized and conjugated with embelin and a cancer targeting peptide with the amino acid sequence LTVSPWY. The biconjugated nanoparticles were used to co–treat MCF7 and HepG2 cells with ceramide. Apoptosis was quantified using flow cytometry. The uptake of gold nanoparticles was investigated using HR–TEM and ICP–OES. This study showed that gold nanoparticles conjugated with the LTVSPWY peptide is specifically targeted to and taken up by cancer cells. Gold nanoparticles conjugated with embelin promoted ceramide induced apoptotic cell death of cancer cells. However, it was observed that gold nanoparticles biconjugated with the LTVSPWY peptide and embelin failed to enhance the pro–apoptotic effects of ceramide. iii This study successfully demonstrated that gold nanoparticles conjugated with embelin could be used to enhance the effects of anti–cancer drugs using ceramide as an example.