Cellular Uptake and Photodynamic Activity of Protein Nanocages Containing Methylene Blue Photosensitizing Drug


Corresponding author email: tuan.vodinh@duke.edu (Tuan Vo-Dinh)


This study reports that photosensitizers encapsulated in supramolecular protein cages can be internalized by tumor cells and can deliver singlet oxygen intracellularly for photodynamic therapy (PDT). As an alternative to other polymeric and/or inorganic nanocarriers and nanoconjugates, which may also deliver photosensitizers to the inside of the target cells, protein nanocages provide a unique vehicle of biological origin for the intracellular delivery of photosensitizing molecules for PDT by protecting the photosensitizers from reactive biomolecules in the cell membranes, and yet providing a coherent, critical mass of destructive power (by way of singlet oxygen) upon specific light irradiation for photodynamic therapy of tumor cells. As a model, we demonstrated the successful encapsulation of methylene blue (MB) in apoferritin via a dissociation–reassembly process controlled by pH. The resulting MB-containing apoferritin nanocages show a positive effect on singlet oxygen production, and cytotoxic effects on MCF-7 human breast adenocarcinoma cells when irradiated at the appropriate wavelength (i.e. 633 nm).