Ultrasound-directed enzyme-prodrug therapy (UDEPT) using self-immolative doxorubicin derivatives

Karolin Roemhild, Helena C. Besse, Bi Wang, Quim Peña, Qingxue Sun, Daiki Omata, Burcin Ozbakir, Clemens Bos, Hans W. Scheeren, Gert Storm, Josbert M. Metselaar, Haijun Yu, Ruth Knüchel-Clarke, Fabian Kiessling, Chrit T.W. Moonen, Roel Deckers*, Yang Shi*, Twan Lammers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Enzyme-activatable prodrugs are extensively employed in oncology and beyond. Because enzyme concentrations and their (sub)cellular compartmentalization are highly heterogeneous in different tumor types and patients, we propose ultrasound-directed enzyme-prodrug therapy (UDEPT) as a means to increase enzyme access and availability for prodrug activation locally. Methods: We synthesized β-glucuronidase-sensitive self-immolative doxorubicin prodrugs with different spacer lengths between the active drug moiety and the capping group. We evaluated drug conversion, uptake and cytotoxicity in the presence and absence of the activating enzyme β-glucuronidase. To trigger the cell release of β-glucuronidase, we used high-intensity focused ultrasound to aid in the conversion of the prodrugs into their active counterparts. Results: More efficient enzymatic activation was observed for self-immolative prodrugs with more than one aromatic unit in the spacer. In the absence of β-glucuronidase, the prodrugs showed significantly reduced cellular uptake and cytotoxicity compared to the parent drug. High-intensity focused ultrasound-induced mechanical destruction of cancer cells resulted in release of intact β-glucuronidase, which activated the prodrugs, restored their cytotoxicity and induced immunogenic cell death. Conclusion: These findings shed new light on prodrug design and activation, and they contribute to novel UDEPT-based mechanochemical combination therapies for the treatment of cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4791-4801
Number of pages11
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2022


  • Cancer
  • Focused ultrasound
  • HIFU
  • Prodrugs
  • β-glucuronidase


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