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J Control Release. 2013 Nov 10;171(3):330-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2013.05.013. Epub 2013 May 25.

Elastin-based protein polymer nanoparticles carrying drug at both corona and core suppress tumor growth in vivo.

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Department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 90089, USA.


Numerous nanocarriers of small molecules depend on either non-specific physical encapsulation or direct covalent linkage. In contrast, this manuscript explores an alternative encapsulation strategy based on high-specificity avidity between a small molecule drug and its cognate protein target fused to the corona of protein polymer nanoparticles. With the new strategy, the drug associates tightly to the carrier and releases slowly, which may decrease toxicity and promote tumor accumulation via the enhanced permeability and retention effect. To test this hypothesis, the drug Rapamycin (Rapa) was selected for its potent anti-proliferative properties, which give it immunosuppressant and anti-tumor activity. Despite its potency, Rapa has low solubility, low oral bioavailability, and rapid systemic clearance, which make it an excellent candidate for nanoparticulate drug delivery. To explore this approach, genetically engineered diblock copolymers were constructed from elastin-like polypeptides (ELPs) that assemble small (<100nm) nanoparticles. ELPs are protein polymers of the sequence (Val-Pro-Gly-Xaa-Gly)n, where the identity of Xaa and n determine their assembly properties. Initially, a screening assay for model drug encapsulation in ELP nanoparticles was developed, which showed that Rose Bengal and Rapa have high non-specific encapsulation in the core of ELP nanoparticles with a sequence where Xaa=Ile or Phe. While excellent at entrapping these drugs, their release was relatively fast (2.2h half-life) compared to their intended mean residence time in the human body. Having determined that Rapa can be non-specifically entrapped in the core of ELP nanoparticles, FK506 binding protein 12 (FKBP), which is the cognate protein target of Rapa, was genetically fused to the surface of these nanoparticles (FSI) to enhance their avidity towards Rapa. The fusion of FKBP to these nanoparticles slowed the terminal half-life of drug release to 57.8h. To determine if this class of drug carriers has potential applications in vivo, FSI/Rapa was administered to mice carrying a human breast cancer model (MDA-MB-468). Compared to free drug, FSI encapsulation significantly decreased gross toxicity and enhanced the anti-cancer activity. In conclusion, protein polymer nanoparticles decorated with the cognate receptor of a high potency, low solubility drug (Rapa) efficiently improved drug loading capacity and its release. This approach has applications to the delivery of Rapa and its analogs; furthermore, this strategy has broader applications in the encapsulation, targeting, and release of other potent small molecules.


CMC; CMT; DLS; ELPs; Elastin-like polypeptide; FK506 binding protein 12; FKBP; High-specificity avidity; ITC; Nanoparticulate drug delivery; Protein polymer; Rapa; Rapamycin encapsulation; TEM; critical micelle concentration; critical micelle temperature; cryo-TEM; cryogenic-transmission electron microscopy; dynamic light scattering; elastin-like polypeptides; inverse transition cycling; mTOR; mammalian target of rapamycin; rapamycin; transmission electron microscopy

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