Effective co-delivery of nutlin-3a and p53 genes via core–shell microparticles for disruption of MDM2–p53 interaction and reactivation of p53 in hepatocellular carcinoma†
The tumor suppressor protein p53 is the most frequently inactivated, mutated, or deleted transcriptional factor in tumor cells. Recent studies have shown that the negative regulation of p53 by the murine double minute 2 (MDM2) protein in human cells interrupts the p53 apoptotic pathway and causes tumorigenesis. Therefore, the disruption of the MDM2–p53 complex by small molecules such as nutlin-3a and the administration of the active p53 protein can effectively restore the apoptotic activity of the p53 protein in tumor cells. This study aims to introduce a unique combined p53-based gene and chemotherapy approach using core–shell polymeric microparticles for the localized treatment of cancers. Core–shell microparticles were successfully fabricated in a single step using a modified electrohydrodynamic atomization (EHDA) technique, where the core and shell layers were loaded with nutlin-3a and β-cyclodextrin-g-chitosan/p53 nanoparticles, respectively. The grafting of β-cyclodextrin (β-CD) onto chitosan chains demonstrated remarkable cellular uptake (∼5-fold) compared to pure chitosan at N/P = 6, attributed to a strong interaction and temporary disruption of the lipid bilayer in the cell membrane by the synthesized copolymer. The therapeutic efficiencies of single- and dual-agent loaded microparticle formulations were also evaluated and compared against free-drug treatment in terms of cell viability and intracellular expression of p53, caspase 3, and MDM2 proteins via an MTS assay, an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and an immunostaining assay. The results revealed that the controlled and sustained release of both agents from the microparticles synergistically enhanced the anti-proliferative efficacy of the agents via the continuous overexpression of p53 and caspase 3 proteins over 5 days. However, MDM2 protein expression remained at the basal level over that period. The findings also indicated that nutlin-3a could impose excessive oxidative stress on cancer cells, where the overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) with irreversible destructive effects on subcellular organelles such as the nucleus (DNA) and mitochondria could be considered as a secondary apoptotic pathway induced by nutlin-3a. Inspired by the observations, the proposed drug delivery system can serve as a unique and powerful drug and gene delivery system with a far-reaching application in human cancer therapy.