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Apoptosis evasion is a hallmark of cancer that motivates the development of novel strategies for inducing cell death in a controlled fashion. The size-compatibility of nanoparticles (NPs) with cellular components provides new opportunities for regulating cellular processes, potentially including apoptosis. We investigated the impact of the covalent attachment of epidermal growth factor (EGF) to 40 nm diameter Au NPs on cellular apoptosis levels, quantified as caspase-3 activity, in two in vitro cancer cell lines: A431 and HeLa. Our studies show that nanoconjugation enhances EGF-induced apoptosis in EGF receptor (EGFR) overexpressing A431 and triggers a quantifiable increase in apoptosis in HeLa. The latter has physiological receptor expression levels and does not show apoptosis in response to free EGF. Endocytosis and trafficking are involved in key EGFR regulation processes, most prominently signal termination. Our experimental findings indicate that these processes can be manipulated through nanoconjugation to induce apoptosis.
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