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Rational Design of a Transferrin-Binding Peptide Sequence Tailored to Targeted Nanoparticle Internalization

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journal contribution
posted on 01.12.2016, 00:00 by Melissa Santi, Giuseppe Maccari, Paolo Mereghetti, Valerio Voliani, Silvia Rocchiccioli, Nadia Ucciferri, Stefano Luin, Giovanni Signore
The transferrin receptor (TfR) is a promising target in cancer therapy owing to its overexpression in most solid tumors and on the blood–brain barrier. Nanostructures chemically derivatized with transferrin are employed in TfR targeting but often lose their functionality upon injection in the bloodstream. As an alternative strategy, we rationally designed a peptide coating able to bind transferrin on suitable pockets not involved in binding to TfR or iron by using an iterative multiscale-modeling approach coupled with quantitative structure–activity and relationship (QSAR) analysis and evolutionary algorithms. We tested that selected sequences have low aspecific protein adsorption and high binding energy toward transferrin, and one of them is efficiently internalized in cells with a transferrin-dependent pathway. Furthermore, it promotes transferrin-mediated endocytosis of gold nanoparticles by modifying their protein corona and promoting oriented adsorption of transferrin. This strategy leads to highly effective nanostructures, potentially useful in diagnostic and therapeutic applications, which exploit (and do not suffer) the protein solvation for achieving a better targeting.