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Keywords:

  • cancer-targeting peptides;
  • poly(arginine) peptides;
  • solid-phase peptide synthesis;
  • GRP78;
  • HepG2 liver cancer cell cytotoxicity

The solid-phase synthesis, structural characterization, and biological evaluation of a small library of cancer-targeting peptides have been determined in HepG2 hepatoblastoma cells. These peptides are based on the highly specific Pep42 motif, which has been shown to target the glucose-regulated protein 78 receptors overexpressed and exclusively localized on the cell surface of tumors. In this study, Pep42 was designed to contain varying lengths (3–12) of poly(arginine) sequences to assess their influence on peptide structure and biology. Peptides were effectively synthesized by 9-fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl-based solid-phase peptide synthesis, in which the use of a poly(ethylene glycol) resin provided good yields (14–46%) and crude purities >95% as analyzed by liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry. Peptide structure and biophysical properties were investigated using circular dichroism spectroscopy. Interestingly, peptides displayed secondary structures that were contingent on solvent and length of the poly(arginine) sequences. Peptides exhibited helical and turn conformations, while retaining significant thermal stability. Structure–activity relationship studies conducted by flow cytometry and confocal microscopy revealed that the poly(arginine) derived Pep42 sequences maintained glucose-regulated protein 78 binding on HepG2 cells while exhibiting cell translocation activity that was contingent on the length of the poly(arginine) strand. In single dose (0.15 mM) and dose-response (0–1.5 mM) cell viability assays, peptides were found to be nontoxic in human HepG2 liver cancer cells, illustrating their potential as safe cancer-targeting delivery agents. Copyright © 2014 European Peptide Society and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.