Activation and Monitoring of mtDNA Damage in Cancer Cells via the "proton-Triggered" Decomposition of an Ultrathin Nanosheet

Jun W. Liu, Yong G. Yang, Kui Wang, Ge Wang, Cong C. Shen, Yue H. Chen, Yu F. Liu, Tony D. James, Kai Jiang, Hua Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)
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Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) damage is a very important molecular event, which has significant effects on living organisms. Therefore, a particularly important challenge for biomaterials research is to develop functionalized nanoparticles that can activate and monitor mtDNA damage and instigate cancer cell apoptosis, and as such eliminate the negative effects on living organisms. Toward that goal, with this research, we have developed a hydroxyapatite ultrathin nanosheet (HAP-PDCns) - a high Ca2+ content biomaterial. HAP-PDCns undergoes proton-triggered decomposition after entering cancer cells via clathrin-mediated endocytosis, and then, it selectively concentrates in the charged mitochondrial membrane. This kind of proton-triggered decomposition phenomenon facilitates mtDNA damage by causing instantaneous local calcium overload in the mitochondria of cancer cells, and inhibits tumor growth. Importantly, at the same time, a real-time green-red-green fluorescence change occurs that correlates with the degree of mtDNA deterioration because of the changes in the highest occupied molecular orbital-lowest unoccupied molecular orbital energy gaps during this process. Significantly, the decomposition and the fluorescence changes cannot be triggered in normal cells. Thus, HAP-PDCns can selectively induce apoptosis and the death of a cancer cell by facilitating mtDNA damage, but does not affect normal cells. In addition, HAP-PDCns can simultaneously monitor the degree of mtDNA damage. We anticipate that this design strategy can be generalized to develop other functionalized biomaterials that can be used to instigate the positive effects of mtDNA damage on living organisms while eliminating any negative effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3669-3678
Number of pages10
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2021


  • cancer cell
  • hydroxyapatite
  • mtDNA damage
  • proton-triggered
  • ultrathin nanosheet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)


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