Kinetic Analysis of Nanostructures Formed by Enzyme-Instructed Intracellular Assemblies against Cancer Cells

Jie Li, Domenico Bullara, Xuewen Du, Hongjian He, Stavroula Sofou, Ioannis G. Kevrekidis, Irving R. Epstein, Bing Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies have demonstrated that enzyme-instructed self-assembly (EISA) in extra- or intracellular environments can serve as a multistep process for controlling cell fate. There is little knowledge, however, about the kinetics of EISA in the complex environments in or around cells. Here, we design and synthesize three dipeptidic precursors (ld-1-SO3, dl-1-SO3, dd-1-SO3), consisting of diphenylalanine (l-Phe-d-Phe, d-Phe-l-Phe, d-Phe-d-Phe, respectively) as the backbone, which are capped by 2-(naphthalen-2-yl)acetic acid at the N-terminal and by 2-(4-(2-aminoethoxy)-4-oxobutanamido)ethane-1-sulfonic acid at the C-terminal. On hydrolysis by carboxylesterases (CES), these precursors result in hydrogelators, which self-assemble in water at different rates. Whereas all three precursors selectively kill cancer cells, especially high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma cells, by undergoing intracellular EISA, dl-1-SO3 and dd-1-SO3 exhibit the lowest and the highest activities, respectively, against the cancer cells. This trend inversely correlates with the rates of converting the precursors to the hydrogelators in phosphate-buffered saline. Because CES exists both extra- and intracellularly, we use kinetic modeling to analyze the kinetics of EISA inside cells and to calculate the cytotoxicity of each precursor for killing cancer cells. Our results indicate that (i) the stereochemistry of the precursors affects the morphology of the nanostructures formed by the hydrogelators, as well as the rate of enzymatic conversion; (ii) decreased extracellular hydrolysis of precursors favors intracellular EISA inside the cells; (iii) the inherent features (e.g., self-assembling ability and morphology) of the EISA molecules largely dictate the cytotoxicity of intracellular EISA. As the kinetic analysis of intracellular EISA, this work elucidates how the stereochemistry modulates EISA in the complex extra- and/or intracellular environment for developing anticancer molecular processes. Moreover, it provides insights for understanding the kinetics and cytotoxicity of aggregates of aberrant proteins or peptides formed inside and outside cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3804-3815
Number of pages12
JournalACS Nano
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 24 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • anticancer
  • enzyme, stereochemistry
  • nanostructure
  • self-assembly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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