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Clin Chim Acta. 2014 Sep 25;436:78-92. doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2014.05.004. Epub 2014 May 15.

Targeted anticancer therapy: overexpressed receptors and nanotechnology.

Author information

  • 1King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology, King Saud University, Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia. Electronic address:
  • 2King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology, King Saud University, Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia.
  • 3King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology, King Saud University, Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia; Department of Medical Physics and Astronomy, College of Science, King Saud University, Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia.
  • 4Department of Biochemistry, King Saud University, Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia.
  • 5Department of Zoology, University of Lucknow, Lucknow 226007, India.


Targeted delivery of anticancer drugs to cancer cells and tissues is a promising field due to its potential to spare unaffected cells and tissues, but it has been a major challenge to achieve success in these therapeutic approaches. Several innovative approaches to targeted drug delivery have been devised based on available knowledge in cancer biology and on technological advancements. To achieve the desired selectivity of drug delivery, nanotechnology has enabled researchers to design nanoparticles (NPs) to incorporate anticancer drugs and act as nanocarriers. Recently, many receptor molecules known to be overexpressed in cancer have been explored as docking sites for the targeting of anticancer drugs. In principle, anticancer drugs can be concentrated specifically in cancer cells and tissues by conjugating drug-containing nanocarriers with ligands against these receptors. Several mechanisms can be employed to induce triggered drug release in response to either endogenous trigger or exogenous trigger so that the anticancer drug is only released upon reaching and preferentially accumulating in the tumor tissue. This review focuses on overexpressed receptors exploited in targeting drugs to cancerous tissues and the tumor microenvironment. We briefly evaluate the structure and function of these receptor molecules, emphasizing the elegant mechanisms by which certain characteristics of cancer can be exploited in cancer treatment. After this discussion of receptors, we review their respective ligands and then the anticancer drugs delivered by nanotechnology in preclinical models of cancer. Ligand-functionalized nanocarriers have delivered significantly higher amounts of anticancer drugs in many in vitro and in vivo models of cancer compared to cancer models lacking such receptors or drug carrying nanocarriers devoid of ligand. This increased concentration of anticancer drug in the tumor site enabled by nanotechnology could have a major impact on the efficiency of cancer treatment while reducing systemic side effects.

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Anticancer drugs; Ligands; Nanoparticles; Overexpressed receptors; Tumor microenvironment

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