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Nanoscale. 2019 Jun 20;11(24):11789-11807. doi: 10.1039/c8nr08442d.

Enhancing tumor chemotherapy and overcoming drug resistance through autophagy-mediated intracellular dissolution of zinc oxide nanoparticles.

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School of Life Sciences and Medical Center, Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, 230027, China.


Autophagy may represent a common cellular response to nanomaterials. In the present study, it was demonstrated that zinc oxide nanoparticle (ZON)-elicited autophagy contributes to tumor cell killing by accelerating the intracellular dissolution of ZONs and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. In particular, ZONs could promote Atg5-regulated autophagy flux without the impairment of autophagosome-lysosome fusion, which is responsible for ZON-elicited cell death in cancer cells. On the other hand, a further study revealed that a significant free zinc ion release in lysosomal acid compartments and sequential ROS generation in cells treated with ZONs were also associated with tumor cytotoxicity. Intriguingly, the colocalization between FITC-labeled ZONs and autophagic vacuoles indicates that the intracellular fate of ZONs is associated with autophagy. Moreover, the chemical or genetic inhibition of autophagy significantly reduced the level of intracellular zinc ion release and ROS generation separately, demonstrating that ZON-induced autophagy contributed toward cancer cell death by accelerating zinc ion release and sequentially increasing intracellular ROS generation. The modulation of autophagy holds great promise for improving the efficacy of tumor chemotherapy. Herein, ZONs were verified to enhance chemotherapy in both normal and drug-resistant cancer cells via synergistic autophagy elicitation. Further, this elicitation resulted in tremendous zinc ion release and ROS generation, which accounted for enhancing the tumor chemotherapy and overcoming drug resistance. No obvious changes in the expression level of P-gp proteins or the amount of doxorubicin uptake induced by ZONs in MCF-7/ADR cells also indicated that the increased zinc ion release and ROS generation via synergistic autophagy induction were responsible for overcoming the drug resistance. Finally, in vivo experiments involving animal models of 4T1 tumor cells revealed that the antitumor therapeutic effect of a combinatory administration obviously outperformed those of ZONs or free doxorubicin treatment alone at the same dose, which could be attenuated by the autophagy inhibitor wortmannin or ion-chelating agent EDTA. Taken together, our results reveal the mechanism wherein the autophagy induction by ZONs potentiates cancer cell death and a novel biological application for ZONs in adjunct chemotherapy in which autophagy reinforces zinc ion release and ROS generation.


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