In vivo and in situ tracking cancer chemotherapy by highly photostable NIR fluorescent theranostic prodrug

X. Wu, X. Sun, Z. Guo, J. Tang, Y. Shen, T.D. James, H. Tian, W. Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

463 Citations (SciVal)


In vivo monitoring of the biodistribution and activation of prodrugs is urgently required. Near infrared (NIR) fluorescence-active fluorophores with excellent photostability are preferable for tracking drug release in vivo. Herein, we describe a NIR prodrug DCM-S-CPT and its polyethylene glycol-polylactic acid (PEG-PLA) loaded nanoparticles as a potent cancer therapy. We have conjugated a dicyanomethylene-4H-pyran derivative as the NIR fluorophore with camptothecin (CPT) as the anticancer drug using a disulfide linker. In vitro experiments verify that the high intracellular glutathione (GSH) concentrations in tumor cells cause cleavage of the disulfide linker, resulting in concomitantly the active drug CPT release and significant NIR fluorescence turn-on with large Stokes shift (200 nm). The NIR fluorescence of DCM-S-CPT at 665 nm with fast response to GSH can act as a direct off-on signal reporter for the GSH-activatable prodrug. Particularly, DCM-S-CPT possesses much better photostability than ICG, which is highly desirable for in situ fluorescence-tracking of cancer chemotherapy. DCM-S-CPT has been successfully utilized for in vivo and in situ tracking of drug release and cancer therapeutic efficacy in living animals by NIR fluorescence. DCM-S-CPT exhibits excellent tumor-activatable performance when intravenously injected into tumor-bearing nude mice, as well as specific cancer therapy with few side effects. DCM-S-CPT loaded in PEG-PLA nanoparticles shows even higher antitumor activity than free CPT, and is also retained longer in the plasma. The tumor-targeting ability and the specific drug release in tumors make DCM-S-CPT as a promising prodrug, providing significant advances toward deeper understanding and exploration of theranostic drug-delivery systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3579-3588
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number9
Early online date25 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2014


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