Vascular Damage and Anti-angiogenic Effects of Tumor Vessel-Targeted Liposomal Chemotherapy

Fabio Pastorino, Chiara Brignole, Danilo Marimpietri, Michele Cilli, Claudio Gambini, Domenico Ribatti, Renato Longhi, Theresa M. Allen, Angelo Corti, Mirco Ponzoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The poor selective toxicity of chemotherapeutic anticancer drugs leads to dose-limiting side effects that compromise clinical outcome. Solid tumors recruit new blood vessels to support tumor growth, and unique epitopes expressed on tumor endothelial cells can function as targets for the anti-angiogenic therapy of cancer. An NGR peptide that targets aminopeptidase N, a marker of angiogenic endothelial cells, was coupled to the surface of liposomal doxorubicin (NGR-SL[DXR]) and was used to treat orthotopic neuroblastoma (NB) xenografts in SCID mice. Pharmacokinetic studies indicated that liposomes coupled to NGR peptide had long-circulating profiles in blood. Their uptake into NB tumor was time dependent, being at least 10 times higher than that of nontargeted liposomes (SL[DXR]) after 24 h, with DXR spreading outside the blood vessels and into the tumors. No uptake was observed into tumors of mice treated with the mismatched peptide ARA-targeted SL[DXR]. Tumor-specific DXR uptake was completely blocked when mice were coinjected with a 50-fold molar excess of the soluble NGR peptide. Adrenal tumor-bearing mice treated with 2 mg/kg/week/×3 of NGR-SL[DXR] partly outlived the control mice (P <0.001), whereas doses > 3 mg/kg/week/×3 were toxic. Histopathological analysis of cryosections taken from treated mice revealed pronounced destruction of the tumor vasculature with a marked decreased in vessel density. Double staining of tumors with terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated nick end labeling and antifactor VIII antibody or antihuman NB demonstrated endothelial cell apoptosis in the vasculature, as well as increased tumor cell apoptosis. Moreover, mice injected with 3 mg/kg/week/×3 of NGR-SL[DXR] displayed rapid tumor regression, as well as inhibition of metastases growth (P = 0.0002). One day after the third treatment, four of six mice showed no evidence of tumors, and the two others showed a >80% reduction in tumor mass and a >90% suppression of blood vessel density (P <0.01). In contrast, mice treated with ARA-SL[DXR] formed large well-vascularized tumors. Finally, a metronomic administration of NGR-SL[DXR] (1 mg/kg/every other 2 days × 9) induced complete tumor eradication in all animals (P <0.0001). Our strategy markedly enhanced the therapeutic index of DXR and enabled metronomic administration of therapeutic doses. A dual mechanism of action is proposed: indirect tumor cell kill via the destruction of tumor endothelium by NGR-targeted liposomes and direct tumor cell kill via localization of liposomal DXR to the tumor interstitial space. This combined strategy has the potential to overcome some major limitations of conventional chemotherapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7400-7409
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Research
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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