• targeted nanodrug delivery;
  • mesoporous silica nanoparticles;
  • apoptosis;
  • signaling pathway

Mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) have been well-demonstrated as excellent carriers for anticancer drug delivery. Presented here is a cancer-targeted MSNs drug delivery system that allows the direct fluorescence monitoring of the cellular uptake and localization of theranostic agents in cancer cells. Specifically, the anticancer action mechanisms of RGD peptide-functionalized MSNs carrying ruthenium polypyridyl complexes (RuPOP@MSNs) are elucidated in detail. RGD peptide surface decoration significantly enhances the cellular uptake of the nanoparticles through receptor-mediated endocytosis, and increases the selectivity between cancer and normal cells. RuPOP@MSNs exhibits unprecedented enhanced cytotoxicity toward cancer cells overexpressing integrin receptor, which is significantly higher than that of free RuPOP, through induction of apoptosis. The important contribution of extrinsic pathway to cell apoptosis is confirmed by increase in expression levels of death receptors, activation of caspase-8 and truncation of Bid. The internalized nanoparticles release free RuPOP into the cytoplasm, where they modulate the phosphorylation of p53, AKT, and MAPKs pathways to promote cell apoptosis. Moreover, the strong autofluorescence of RuPOP permits the direct monitoring of drug delivery, and extends the power of theranostics to subcellular level. Taken together, this study provides an effective strategy for the design and development of cancer-targeted theranostic agents.