Leveraging the interplay between homogeneous and heterogeneous catalytic mechanisms: copper-iron nanoparticles working under chemically relevant tumor conditions

24 December 2021, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


The present work sheds light on a generally overlooked issue in the emerging field of bio-orthogonal catalysis within tumor microenvironments (TMEs): the interplay between homogeneous and heterogeneous catalytic processes. In most cases, previous works dealing with nanoparticle-based catalysis in the TME, focus on the effects obtained (e.g. tumor cell death) and attribute the results to heterogeneous processes alone. The specific mechanisms are rarely substantiated and, furthermore, the possibility of a significant contribution of homogeneous processes by leached species –and the complexes that they may form with biomolecules- is neither contemplated nor pursued. Herein, we have designed a bimetallic catalyst nanoparticle containing Cu and Fe species and we have been able to describe the whole picture in a more complex scenario where both homogeneous and heterogeneous processes are coupled and fostered under TME relevant chemical conditions. We investigate the preferential leaching of Cu ions in the presence of a TME overexpressed biomolecule such as glutathione (GSH). We demonstrate that these homogeneous processes initiated by the released by Cu-GSH interactions are in fact responsible for the greater part of the cell death effects found (GSH, a scavenger of reactive oxygen species is depleted and highly active superoxide anions are generated in the same catalytic cycle). The remaining solid CuFe nanoparticle becomes an active catalase-mimicking surrogate able to supply oxygen from oxygen reduced species, such as superoxide anions (by-product from GSH oxidation) and hydrogen peroxide, another species that is enriched in the TME. This enzyme-like activity is essential to sustain the homogeneous catalytic cycle in the oxygen-deprived tumor microenvironment. The combined heterogeneous-homogeneous mechanisms revealed themselves as highly efficient in selectively killing cancer cells, due to their higher GSH levels compared to healthy cell lines.




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