Rational design of a “dual lock-and-key” supramolecular photosensitizer based on aromatic nucleophilic substitution for specific and enhanced photodynamic therapy†
Photosensitizing agents are essential for precise and efficient photodynamic therapy (PDT). However, most of the conventional photosensitizers still suffer from limitations such as aggregation-caused quenching (ACQ) in physiological environments and toxic side-effects on normal tissues during treatment, leading to reduced therapeutic efficacy. Thus, integrating excellent photophysical properties and accurate carcinoma selectivity in a photosensitizer system remains highly desired. Herein, a “dual lock-and-key” supramolecular photosensitizer BIBCl–PAE NPs for specific and enhanced cancer therapy is reported. BIBCl–PAE NPs are constructed by encapsulating a rationally designed glutathione (GSH)-activatable photosensitizer BIBCl in a pH-responsive diblock copolymer. In normal tissues, BIBCl is “locked” in the hydrophobic core of the polymeric micelles due to ACQ. Under the “dual key” activation of low pH and high levels of GSH in a tumor microenvironment, the disassembly of micelles facilitates the reaction of BIBCl with GSH to release water-soluble BIBSG with ideal biocompatibility, enabling the highly efficient PDT. Moreover, benefiting from the Förster resonance energy transfer effect of BIBSG, improved light harvesting ability and 1O2 production are achieved. In vitro and vivo experiments have demonstrated that BIBCl–PAE NPs are effective in targeting and inhibiting carcinoma. BIBCl–PAE NPs show superior anticancer efficiency relative to non-activatable controls.