Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)


Pharmaceutical and Chemical Sciences

First Advisor

Xiaoling Li

First Committee Member

Bhaskara R. Jasti

Second Committee Member

Liang Xue


Recent strategies for anticancer drug design have been focused on utilizing antibody as a drug or targeted moiety for targeted drug delivery. Antibody−drug conjugates (ADCs) have become a promising new class of targeted therapeutic agents for treatment of cancer. ADCs are designed to preferentially direct a cytotoxic drug to a cell-surface antigen recognized by an antibody. However, there are some challenges in developing ADCs, such as limited solid tumor penetration, high manufacturing costs and antibody-drug stoichiometry. Smaller molecules such as peptides have been shown to specifically bind to cancer related targets. These peptides can be used to form peptide-drug conjugates (PDCs) to overcome above-mentioned drawbacks presented by ADCs.

In this study, it was hypothesized that novel synthesized PDCs can be a strategy for breast cancer therapy. HER2 specific binding peptides, MARAKE and MARSGL, were modified by addition of a cysteine at C-terminus. The modified peptides were coupled with monomethylauristatin E (MMAE) by using maleimidocaproyl (MC) as a non-cleavable linker to form peptide-drug conjugates (YW1, YW2) and maleimidocaproyl-valine-citrulline (MC-VC) as a cleavable linker to form peptide-drug conjugates (YW3 and YW4). The peptides, peptide-drug conjugates and MC-MMAE, MC-VC-MMAE were characterized using ESI-MS and purified by using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Cellular uptake study was performed to determine binding specificity and internalization of two HER2 specific peptides and cysteine-modified peptides (MARAKEC, MARSGLC). In vitro cell viability assay was conducted to assess the cytotoxicity and determine the targeting specificity as well as the potency of the peptide-drug conjugates.

The purity of each compound was greater than 90%. Internalization of both HER2 specific binding peptides and cysteine-modified peptides were significantly higher than random peptides in HER2 over-expressed cell lines, MDA-MB361 and ZR75, while negligible uptake in HER2 negative cell line, HEK293. MC linked PDCs showed similar cytotoxicity as peptide in all cell lines; while MC-VC linked PDCs have higher cytotoxicity than MMAE in HER2 positive cell line and significant lower cytotoxicity than MMAE in normal cell line HEK293. However, PDCs with MC link do not show significant difference in cytotoxicity compared to the peptide in all cell lines.

In conclusion, specificity of HER2 binding for both peptides was preserved after modification with cysteine. The derivation of MMAE to link drug and peptide played a crucial role in the anticancer activity. Peptide-MMAE conjugates with cleavable linker showed a promising targeting capability for delivery of MMAE to HER2 overexpressed cancer cells.





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