Photodynamic therapy (PDT) holds tantalizing prospects of a prominent cancer treatment strategy. However, its efficacy remains limited by virtue of the hypoxic tumor microenvironment and the inadequate tumor-targeted delivery of photosensitizers, and these can be further exacerbated by the lack of development of a well-controlled nitric oxide (NO) release system at the target site. Inspired by Chinese medicine, we propose a revealing new keratin application. Keratin has garnered attention as an NO generator; however, its oncological use has rarely been investigated. We hypothesized that the incorporation of a phenylboronic acid (PBA) targeting ligand/methylene blue (MB) photosensitizer with a keratin NO donor would facilitate precise tumor delivery, enhancing PDT. Herein, we demonstrated that MB@keratin/PBA/d-α-tocopherol polyethylene glycol 1000 succinate (TPGS) nanoparticles (MB@KPTNPs) specifically targeted breast cancer cells and effectively suppressed their growth. Through MB-mediated biometabolism, the endocytic MB@KPTNPs produced a sufficient amount of intracellular NO that reduced the glutathione level while boosting the efficiency of PDT. A therapeutic combination of NO/PDT was therefore achieved, resulting in significant inhibition of both in vivo tumor growth and lung metastasis. These findings underscore the importance of utilizing keratin-based nanoparticles that simultaneously combine targeting of the tumor and self-generating NO with a cascading catalytic ability as a novel oxidation therapeutic strategy for enhancing PDT.
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