Background and aim: A photosensitizer (PS) delivery and comprehensive tumor targeting platform was developed that is centered on the photosensitization of key pharmacological targets in solid tumors (cancer cells, tumor vascular endothelium, and cellular and non-cellular components of the tumor microenvironment) before photodynamic therapy (PDT). Interstitially targeted liposomes (ITLs) encapsulating zinc phthalocyanine (ZnPC) and aluminum phthalocyanine (AlPC) were formulated for passive targeting of the tumor microenvironment. In previous work it was established that the PEGylated ITLs were taken up by cultured cholangiocarcinoma cells. The aim of this study was to verify previous results in cancer cells and to determine whether the ITLs can also be used to photosensitize cells in the tumor microenvironment and vasculature. Following positive results, rudimentary in vitro and in vivo experiments were performed with ZnPC-ITLs and AlPC-ITLs as well as their water-soluble tetrasulfonated derivatives (ZnPCS4 and AlPCS4) to assemble a research dossier and bring this platform closer to clinical transition. Methods: Flow cytometry and confocal microscopy were employed to determine ITL uptake and PS distribution in cholangiocarcinoma (SK-ChA-1) cells, endothelial cells (HUVECs), fibroblasts (NIH-3T3), and macrophages (RAW 264.7). Uptake of ITLs by endothelial cells was verified under flow conditions in a flow chamber. Dark toxicity and PDT efficacy were determined by cell viability assays, while the mode of cell death and cell cycle arrest were assayed by flow cytometry. In vivo systemic toxicity was assessed in zebrafish and chicken embryos, whereas skin phototoxicity was determined in BALB/c nude mice. A PDT efficacy pilot was conducted in BALB/c nude mice bearing human triple-negative breast cancer (MDA-MB-231) xenografts. Results: The key findings were that (1) photodynamically active PSs (i.e., all except ZnPCS4) were able to effectively photosensitize cancer cells and non-cancerous cells; (2) following PDT, photodynamically active PSs were highly toxic-to-potent as per anti-cancer compound classification; (3) the photodynamically active PSs did not elicit notable systemic toxicity in zebrafish and chicken embryos; (4) ITL-delivered ZnPC and ZnPCS4 were associated with skin phototoxicity, while the aluminum-containing PSs did not exert detectable skin phototoxicity; and (5) ITL-delivered ZnPC and AlPC were equally effective in their tumor-killing capacity in human tumor breast cancer xenografts and superior to other non-phthalocyanine PSs when appraised on a per mole administered dose basis. Conclusions: AlPC(S4) are the safest and most effective PSs to integrate into the comprehensive tumor targeting and PS delivery platform. Pending further in vivo validation, these third-generation PSs may be used for multi-compartmental tumor photosensitization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112500
JournalJournal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2022


  • In vitro pharmacokinetics
  • Interstitially targeted liposomes
  • Mode of cell death
  • Mouse xenograft tumor model
  • Pharmacodynamics
  • Photonanomedicine
  • Skin phototoxicity
  • Therapeutic efficacy
  • Toxicity

Cite this