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Background and methodsNanoparticles engineered to carry both a chemotherapeutic drug and a sensitive imaging probe are valid tools for early detection of cancer cells and to monitor the cytotoxic effects of anticancer treatment simultaneously. Here we report on the effect of size (10-30 nm versus 50 nm), type of material (mesoporous silica versus polystyrene), and surface charge functionalization (none, amine groups, or carboxyl groups) on biocompatibility, uptake, compartmentalization, and intracellular retention of fluorescently labeled nanoparticles in cultured human ovarian cancer cells. We also investigated the involvement of caveolae in the mechanism of uptake of nanoparticles.ResultsWe found that mesoporous silica nanoparticles entered via caveolae-mediated endocytosis and reached the lysosomes; however, while the 50 nm nanoparticles permanently resided within these organelles, the 10 nm nanoparticles soon relocated in the cytoplasm. Naked 10 nm mesoporous silica nanoparticles showed the highest and 50 nm carboxyl-modified mesoporous silica nanoparticles the lowest uptake rates, respectively. Polystyrene nanoparticle uptake also occurred via a caveolae-independent pathway, and was negatively affected by serum. The 30 nm carboxyl-modified polystyrene nanoparticles did not localize in lysosomes and were not toxic, while the 50 nm amine-modified polystyrene nanoparticles accumulated within lysosomes and eventually caused cell death. Ovarian cancer cells expressing caveolin-1 were more likely to endocytose these nanoparticles.ConclusionThese data highlight the importance of considering both the physicochemical characteristics (ie, material, size and surface charge on chemical groups) of nanoparticles and the biochemical composition of the cell membrane when choosing the most suitable nanotheranostics for targeting cancer cells.

Original publication




Journal article


International journal of nanomedicine

Publication Date





4147 - 4158


Laboratory of Molecular Pathology and Nanobioimaging, Department of Health Sciences, Università del Piemonte Orientale A. Avogadro, Via Solaroli 17, Novara, Italy.


Cell Line, Tumor, Lysosomes, Humans, Ovarian Neoplasms, Silicon Dioxide, Polystyrenes, Biocompatible Materials, Endocytosis, Structure-Activity Relationship, Dose-Response Relationship, Drug, Particle Size, Surface Properties, Female, Caveolin 1, Nanoparticles