Theranostics 2015; 5(4):357-370. doi:10.7150/thno.10657


Off to the Organelles - Killing Cancer Cells with Targeted Gold Nanoparticles

Mohamed Kodiha1, Yi Meng Wang1, Eliza Hutter2, Dusica Maysinger2, Ursula Stochaj1✉

1. Department of Physiology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada;
2. Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.


Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) are excellent tools for cancer cell imaging and basic research. However, they have yet to reach their full potential in the clinic. At present, we are only beginning to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie the biological effects of AuNPs, including the structural and functional changes of cancer cells. This knowledge is critical for two aspects of nanomedicine. First, it will define the AuNP-induced events at the subcellular and molecular level, thereby possibly identifying new targets for cancer treatment. Second, it could provide new strategies to improve AuNP-dependent cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Our review summarizes the impact of AuNPs on selected subcellular organelles that are relevant to cancer therapy. We focus on the nucleus, its subcompartments, and mitochondria, because they are intimately linked to cancer cell survival, growth, proliferation and death. While non-targeted AuNPs can damage tumor cells, concentrating AuNPs in particular subcellular locations will likely improve tumor cell killing. Thus, it will increase cancer cell damage by photothermal ablation, mechanical injury or localized drug delivery. This concept is promising, but AuNPs have to overcome multiple hurdles to perform these tasks. AuNP size, morphology and surface modification are critical parameters for their delivery to organelles. Recent strategies explored all of these variables, and surface functionalization has become crucial to concentrate AuNPs in subcellular compartments.

Here, we highlight the use of AuNPs to damage cancer cells and their organelles. We discuss current limitations of AuNP-based cancer research and conclude with future directions for AuNP-dependent cancer treatment.

Keywords: Gold nanoparticles, AuNPs, cancer cell imaging

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How to cite this article:
Kodiha M, Wang YM, Hutter E, Maysinger D, Stochaj U. Off to the Organelles - Killing Cancer Cells with Targeted Gold Nanoparticles. Theranostics 2015; 5(4):357-370. doi:10.7150/thno.10657. Available from