Melittin is a cytolytic peptide derived from bee venom that inserts into lipid membranes and oligomerizes to form membrane pores. Although this peptide is an attractive candidate for treatment of cancers and infectious processes, its nonspecific cytotoxicity and hemolytic activity have limited its therapeutic applications. Several groups have reported the development of cytolytic peptide prodrugs that only exhibit cytotoxicity following activation by site-specific proteases. However, systemic administration of these constructs has proven difficult because of their poor pharmacokinetic properties. Here, we present a platform for the design of protease-activated melittin derivatives that may be used in conjunction with a perfluorocarbon nanoparticle delivery system. Although native melittin was substantially hemolytic (HD50: 1.9 μM) and cytotoxic (IC50: 2.4 μM), the prodrug exhibited 2 orders of magnitude less hemolytic activity (HD50: > 100 μM) and cytotoxicity (IC50: > 100 μM). Incubation with matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) led to cleavage of the prodrug at the expected site and restoration of hemolytic activity (HD50: 3.4 μM) and cytotoxicity (IC50: 8.1 μM). Incubation of the prodrug with perfluorocarbon nanoparticles led to stable loading of 10250 peptides per nanoparticle. Nanoparticle-bound prodrug was also cleaved and activated by MMP-9, albeit at a fourfold slower rate. Intravenous administration of prodrug-loaded nanoparticles in a mouse model of melanoma significantly decreased tumor growth rate (p = 0.01). Because MMPs and other proteases play a key role in cancer invasion and metastasis, this platform holds promise for the development of personalized cancer therapies directed toward a patients individual protease expression profile.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1640-1650
Number of pages11
JournalBioconjugate Chemistry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 19 2015


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