American Journal of Drug Delivery

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 155–170

Potential of transferrin and transferrin conjugates of liposomes in drug delivery and targeting

Review Article

DOI: 10.2165/00137696-200503030-00002

Cite this article as:
Soni, V., Jain, S.K. & Kohli, D.V. Am J Drug Deliv (2005) 3: 155. doi:10.2165/00137696-200503030-00002


Targeted drug delivery has gained recognition in modern therapeutics and attempts are being made to explore the potential of cell biology-related bioevents in the development of specific and target-oriented systems. In connection to modern therapeutic systems, most of the emphasis has been laid upon the bioconjugated drug delivery systems. Bioconjugates involve the linking of two or more molecules to form a novel complex having the combined properties of its individual components. The nature of the linking agent between the pharmacologic agent and the delivery-augmenting moiety dictates the degree of successful delivery and its outcome. The component for the bioconjugated drug delivery includes receptors and ligands, where the receptors act as molecular targets or portals whereas ligands with receptors provide selective and specific trafficking towards the targeting site. Recently, a number of bioconjugated systems have been discovered for the site-specific presentation and delivery of various bioactive substances using biorelevant ligands, including antibodies, glycoprotein, viral proteins, and molecules of endogenous origin. In this review, the potential of transferrin (Tf) and Tf conjugates of liposomes in site-specific drug delivery systems are discussed. Tf is an abundant component of serum with the capacity to bind and transport iron, while Tf receptor (TfR), a dimeric transmembrane glycoprotein, is present on the surface of the most proliferating, higher eukaryotic cells. Tf expression is also found in nonproliferating tissues, such as hepatocytes, tissue macrophages, pituitary cells, pancreatic islet cells, and the endothelium of brain capillaries. Tumor cells frequently carry elevated numbers of TfRs compared with corresponding normal cells, and reduced serum levels of Tf are often observed in patients with tumors. In the past, various strategies have been developed, which include coupling of the liposomal surface with Tf by using various linking agents. Low-molecular weight drugs and proteins as well as liposomes can be linked with Tf. The Tf-coupled vesicular system is physicochemically stable in the bioenvironment and is site-specific. The aim of coupling liposomes with Tf is to improve the physical and biochemical stability of liposomes and make them appropriate for targeting specific organs and cells. Tf may be widely applied either as a carrier or targeting ligand in the active targeting of anticancer agents, proteins, and genes to primarily proliferating malignant cells that overexpress TfRs. Tf has been used as a molecular conjugate to deliver DNA to erythroleukemic, lung, and liver cell lines. Tf can also be modified with the positive charge N-acylurea groups to make them suitable for electrostatic binding of DNA, in order to achieve a well defined DNA-binding ligand for receptor-mediated gene transfer. Association of Tf with lipoplexes, in particular the negatively charged ternary complexes, significantly overcomes the inhibitory effect of serum and facilitates efficient transfection in many cell lines, including HeLa, K-562 cells, and lung carcinoma cells Calu-3 and H-292 cells. Tf-lipoplex has demonstrated high efficiency in tumor-targeted gene delivery and long-term therapeutic accuracy in systemic p53 gene therapy for both human head and neck cancer and prostate cancer. Tf and Tf-coupled liposomal drug delivery systems may prove particularly valuable to enable the use of a drug that seems to be ineffective or toxic if delivered systematically. The delivery of drugs to the brain has been particularly challenging because of the presence of the blood-brain barrier, which restricts the passage of most therapeutic agents into the brain. Therefore, active targeting of the brain is crucial for effective treatment of brain diseases. The anti-TfR antibody, such as OX26, when coupled with therapeutic agents, has shown potential in drug and gene delivery to the brain.

Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pharmaceutics Research Projects Laboratory, Department of Pharmaceutical SciencesDr H. S. Gour UniversitySagar (M.P.)India
  2. 2.Pharmaceutics Research Projects Laboratory, Department of Pharmaceutical SciencesDr H. S. Gour VishwavidyalayaSagar (M.P.)India