Understanding cell death response to gold nanoparticle-mediated photothermal therapy in 2D and 3D in vitro tumor models for improving cancer therapy
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Gold nanoparticles, a class of plasmonic nanoparticle, have increasingly been explored as an imaging and therapeutic agent to treat cancer due to their characteristic surface plasmon resonance phenomenon and penchant for tumor accumulation. Photothermal therapy has been shown as a promising cancer treatment by delivering heat specifically to the tumor site via gold nanoparticles. In this study, we demonstrate that gold nanorod (GNR)-mediated photothermal therapy can be more effective through the understanding of cell death mechanisms. By targeting GNRs to various cellular localizations, we explored the association of GNR localization with cell death pathway response to photothermal therapy. Furthermore, we compared the 2D monolayer experiments with 3D in vitro tumor models, multicellular tumor spheroids (MCTS), to mimic the structure of in vivo tumors. With MCTS, we evaluated the cell death response with GNRs distributed only on the periphery, as seen in typical in vivo studies, and distributed evenly throughout the tumor. We demonstrated that GNR localization influences the cell death response to photothermal therapy by showing the power threshold necessary to induce significant apoptotic and necrotic increases was lower for internalized GNRs than membrane-bound GNRs. Furthermore, apoptosis was found to increase with increasing laser power until the necrotic threshold and decreased above it, as necrosis became the dominant cell death pathway response. A similar trend was revealed with the 3D MCTS; however, the overall cell death percentages were lower, most likely due to the upregulated cell repair response and varied GNR distributions due to the presence of cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. Furthermore, the uniformly distributed GNRs induced more apoptosis and necrosis than GNRs located in the MCTS periphery. In conclusion, we quantitatively analyzed the cell death pathway response to GNR-mediated photothermal therapy to establish that it has some dependence on GNR localization and distribution to gain a more thorough understanding of this response for photothermal therapy optimization.