Enzyme-sensitive cytotoxic peptide–dendrimer conjugates enhance cell apoptosis and deep tumor penetration
Peptide nanodrugs have been developed as promising antitumor chemotherapeutics because they partially overcome the drawbacks of free peptide drugs, but insufficient tumor penetration and interference of peptide function limit their further application. In this work, we have developed multifunctional peptide conjugated dendrimers for improving tumor penetration, cancer cell-specific peptide delivery and anticancer ability. The cytotoxic peptide KLAK, cell-penetrating peptide TAT and matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP2)-sensitive peptide-poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) were conjugated onto dendrimers by one-pot synthesis to gain PKT-S-PEG. The enzyme-sensitive properties and incubation stability of the dendrimers were investigated by dynamic light scattering (DLS) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Moreover, the cell viability, internalization pathway, mitochondria-regulated apoptosis and tumor penetration ability were measured by CCK-8 assay, lysosome colocalization, JC-1 assay and multicellular spheroid (MCS) experiments, respectively, in human primary glioblastoma (U87) cells. PKT-S-PEG showed significantly enhanced intracellular delivery performance, antitumor efficacy and deep tumor penetration capacity compared to a control non-MMP2 sensitive dendrimer PKT-C-PEG. The MMP2-overexpressing tumor microenvironment caused deprotection by removal of PEG, resulting in the decrease of particle size and exposure of KLAK and TAT, which enhanced tumor penetration, the entry of bioactive peptides into cells and subsequently the effective disruption of mitochondria. We believe that the peptide–dendrimer conjugate has potential for specific and effective delivery of peptide-based therapeutics into tumors.