Aptamers with self-loading drug payload and ph-controlled drug release for targeted chemotherapy

Zihua Zeng, Jianjun Qi, Quanyuan Wan, Youli Zu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Doxorubicin (DOX) is a common anti-tumor drug that binds to DNA or RNA via non-covalent intercalation between G-C sequences. As a therapeutic agent, DOX has been used to form aptamer–drug conjugates for targeted cancer therapy in vitro and in vivo. To improve the therapeutic potential of aptamer–DOX conjugates, we synthesized trifurcated Newkome-type monomer (TNM) structures with three DOX molecules bound through pH-sensitive hydrazone bonds to formulate TNM-DOX. The aptamer–TNM–DOX conjugate (Apt–TNM-DOX) was produced through a simple self-loading process. Chemical validation revealed that Apt–TNM-DOX stably carried high drug payloads of 15 DOX molecules per aptamer sequence. Functional characterization showed that DOX payload release from Apt–TNM-DOX was pH-dependent and occurred at pH 5.0, which reflects the microenvironment of tumor cell lysosomes. Further, Apt–TNM-DOX specifically targeted lymphoma cells without affecting off-target control cells. Aptamer-mediated cell binding resulted in the uptake of Apt–TNM-DOX into targeted cells and the release of DOX payload within cell lysosomes to inhibit growth of targeted lymphoma cells. The Apt–TNM-DOX provides a simple, non-toxic approach to develop aptamer-based targeted therapeutics and may reduce the non-specific side effects associated with traditional chemotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1221
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Aptamer–drug conjugate
  • Doxorubicin
  • High drug payload
  • Self-loading
  • Targeted chemotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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