Protein nanocages are self-organized complexes of oligomers whose three-dimensional architecture can been determined in detail. These structures possess nanoscale inner cavities into which a variety of molecules, including therapeutic or diagnostic agents, can be encapsulated. These properties yield these particles suitable for a new class of drug delivery carrier, or as a bioimaging reagent that might respond to biochemical signals in many different cellular processes. We report here the design, synthesis, and biological characterization of a hepatocyte-specific nanocage carrying small heat-shock protein. These nanoscale protein cages, with a targeting peptide composed of a preS1 derivative from the hepatitis B virus on their surfaces, were prepared by genetic engineering techniques. PreS1-carrying nanocages showed lower cytotoxicity and significantly higher specificity for human hepatocyte cell lines than other cell lines in vitro. These results suggested that small heat-shock protein-based nanocages present great potential for the development of effective targeted delivery of various agents to specific cells.
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