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Fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFRs) have become an attractive target in cancer research and therapy due to their implication in several cancers. Limitations of current treatment options require a need for additional, more specific and potent strategies to overcome cancers driven by FGFRs. Photochemical internalization (PCI) is a light-controlled method for cytosolic delivery of drugs that are entrapped in endosomes and lysosomes. We here evaluated the efficacy and selectivity of PCI of FGF2-saporin (FGF-SAP) in cells overexpressing FGFR1. FGF-SAP is a conjugate of FGF2 and the highly cytotoxic ribosome-inactivating protein (RIP) saporin, which is used as payload to eliminate cancer cells. Evaluation of the targeting effect of PCI of FGF-SAP was done by comparing the cytotoxic response in osteosarcoma cells with very low levels of FGFR1 (U2OS) to cells overexpressing FGFR1 (U2OS-R1). We demonstrate that PCI greatly enhances cytotoxicity of the drug showing efficient cell killing at pM concentrations of the drug in U2OS-R1 cells. However, U2OS cells were also sensitive to the toxin after PCI. Binding experiments using confocal microscopy and Western blotting techniques indicate that FGF-SAP is taken up by cells through heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) in U2OS cells. We further show that the cytotoxicity of FGF-SAP in U2OS cells was reduced when cells were co-treated with heparin to compete out binding to HSPG, demonstrating that the cytotoxic effect was due to internalization by HSPGs. We conclude that to prevent off-target effects of FGF-based toxins, it will be necessary to circumvent binding to HSPGs, for example by mutating the binding site of FGF2 to HSPGs.


Aurora K Vikan, Michal Kostas, Ellen Margrethe Haugsten, Pål K Selbo, Jørgen Wesche. Efficacy and Selectivity of FGF2-Saporin Cytosolically Delivered by PCI in Cells Overexpressing FGFR1. Cells. 2021 Jun 12;10(6)

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PMID: 34204611

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