The impact of nanoconjugation to EGF-induced apoptosis
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Engineered nanoparticles provide potential opportunities for improving current drug delivery, bioimaging and biosensing modalities. In many cases, a ligand, such as a protein, peptide or nucleic acids, is attached to the nanoparticles surface to serve as a targeting group. However, the nanoconjugation (i.e. covalently bound molecules to a nanocarrier) is not an innocuous reaction. It can change the binding affinity and interfere with the intracellular trafficking of the tethered species. The understanding of this influence to the tethered species is still lacking. Therefore, the main objective of this thesis is to investigate the effect of nanoconjugation to the biological identity of the tethered biomolecules, in terms of cellular uptake, intracellular trafficking and the ultimate biological outcomes. The Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) is a tyrosine kinase that regulates cell proliferation and can cause cancer if dysregulated. Continuous treatment with high doses of EGF can induce apoptosis, in EGFR overexpressing cell lines. In this thesis, Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) was chosen as the object of investigation. Covalent attachment of EGF to gold nanoparticles (NP-EGF) was found to enhance apoptosis in EGFR overexpressing cell lines (A431, MDA-MB-468) and it is sufficient to induce apoptosis in cell lines exhibiting EGFR expression at physiological levels (HeLa). NP-EGF accumulation through the endosomal pathway was also investigated to assess the impact of nanoconjugation on the spatio-temporal distribution of NP-EGF as potential origin for the observed enhancement of apoptosis. Two orthogonal experimental approaches were applied: (1) isolation of NP-EGF containing endosomes by taking advantage of the increased density of endosomes associated with the uptake of Au NPs; (2) correlated darkfield/fluorescence imaging to map the spatial distribution of NP-EGF in endosomes as a function of time. The studies reveal that nanoconjugation prolongs the dwelling time of phosphorylated receptors in the early endosomes and that the retention of activated EGFR in the early endosomes is accompanied by an EGF mediated apoptosis at effective concentrations that do not induce apoptosis in the case of the free EGF. Investigating the nanoconjugation-enhanced EGF-induced apoptosis improves the current understanding of cell-nanomatieral interactions and provides new opportunities for overcoming apoptosis evasion by cancer cells.