Evaluating the Efficiency of Hyaluronic Acid for Tumor Targeting via CD44

Alice Spadea, Julio Manuel Rios De La Rosa, Annalisa Tirella, Marianne B. Ashford, Kaye J. Williams, Ian J. Stratford, Nicola Tirelli, Manal Mehibel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The development of delivery systems capable of tumor targeting represents a promising strategy to overcome issues related to nonspecific effects of conventional anticancer therapies. Currently, one of the most investigated agents for cancer targeting is hyaluronic acid (HA), since its receptor, CD44, is overexpressed in many cancers. However, most of the studies on CD44/HA interaction have been so far performed in cell-free or genetically modified systems, thus leaving some uncertainty regarding which cell-related factors influence HA binding and internalization (collectively called "uptake") into CD44-expressing cells. To address this, the expression of CD44 (both standard and variants, designated CD44s and CD44v, respectively) was evaluated in human dermal fibroblasts (HDFs) and a large panel of cancer cell lines, including breast, prostate, head and neck, pancreatic, ovarian, colorectal, thyroid, and endometrial cancers. Results showed that CD44 isoform profiles and expression levels vary across the cancer cell lines and HDF and are not consistent within the cell origin. Using composite information of CD44 expression, HA binding, and internalization, we found that the expression of CD44v can negatively influence the uptake of HA, and, instead, when cells primarily expressed CD44s, a positive correlation was observed between expression and uptake. In other words, CD44s high cells bound and internalized more HA compared to CD44s low cells. Moreover, CD44s high HDFs were less efficient in uptaking HA compared to CD44s high cancer cells. The experiments described here are the first step toward understanding the interplay between CD44 expression, its functionality, and the underlying mechanism(s) for HA uptake. The results show that factors other than the amount of CD44 receptor can play a role in the interaction with HA, and this represents an important advance with respect to the design of HA-based carriers and the selection of tumors to treat according to their CD44 expression profile.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2481–2493
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2019


  • cancer
  • CD44
  • drug delivery
  • hyaluronic acid
  • tumor targeting


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