Staff member


Xavier Fernàndez-Busquets

Group Leader
Nanomalaria
xfernandez@ibecbarcelona.eu
+34 932 275 707
CV Summary

Xavier Fernàndez-Busquets is Head of the Nanomalaria Joint Unit at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia and the Barcelona Centre for International Health Research. He got his PhD in Biochemistry at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He has been a visiting scientist at CIBA-GEIGY AG (Basel, Switzerland) and a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedrich Miescher Institute (Basel) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, US) from 1993 to 1999, and at the Universitat de Barcelona until 2001, when he obtained a Ramón y Cajal grant to start his research on Nanomedicine.

Staff member publications

Grice, L. F., Gauthier, M. E. A., Roper, K. E., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Degnan, S. M., Degnan, B. M., (2017). Origin and evolution of the sponge aggregation factor gene family Molecular Biology and Evolution 34, (5), 1083-1099

Although discriminating self from nonself is a cardinal animal trait, metazoan allorecognition genes do not appear to be homologous. Here, we characterize the Aggregation Factor (AF) gene family, which encodes putative allorecognition factors in the demosponge Amphimedon queenslandica, and trace its evolution across 24 sponge (Porifera) species. The AF locus in Amphimedon is comprised of a cluster of five similar genes that encode Calx-beta and Von Willebrand domains and a newly defined Wreath domain, and are highly polymorphic. Further AF variance appears to be generated through individualistic patterns of RNA editing. The AF gene family varies between poriferans, with protein sequences and domains diagnostic of the AF family being present in Amphimedon and other demosponges, but absent from other sponge classes. Within the demosponges, AFs vary widely with no two species having the same AF repertoire or domain organization. The evolution of AFs suggests that their diversification occurs via high allelism, and the continual and rapid gain, loss and shuffling of domains over evolutionary time. Given the marked differences in metazoan allorecognition genes, we propose the rapid evolution of AFs in sponges provides a model for understanding the extensive diversification of self-nonself recognition systems in the animal kingdom.

Keywords: Aggregation factor, Allorecognition, Intron phase, Polymorphism, Porifera, RNA editing


Marques, J., Valle-Delgado, J. J., Urbán, P., Baró, E., Prohens, R., Mayor, A., Cisteró, P., Delves, M., Sinden, R. E., Grandfils, C., de Paz, J. L., García-Salcedo, J. A., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2017). Adaptation of targeted nanocarriers to changing requirements in antimalarial drug delivery Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine 13, (2), 515-525

The adaptation of existing antimalarial nanocarriers to new Plasmodium stages, drugs, targeting molecules, or encapsulating structures is a strategy that can provide new nanotechnology-based, cost-efficient therapies against malaria. We have explored the modification of different liposome prototypes that had been developed in our group for the targeted delivery of antimalarial drugs to Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs). These new models include: (i) immunoliposome-mediated release of new lipid-based antimalarials; (ii) liposomes targeted to pRBCs with covalently linked heparin to reduce anticoagulation risks; (iii) adaptation of heparin to pRBC targeting of chitosan nanoparticles; (iv) use of heparin for the targeting of Plasmodium stages in the mosquito vector; and (v) use of the non-anticoagulant glycosaminoglycan chondroitin 4-sulfate as a heparin surrogate for pRBC targeting. The results presented indicate that the tuning of existing nanovessels to new malaria-related targets is a valid low-cost alternative to the de novo development of targeted nanosystems.

Keywords: Glycosaminoglycans, Malaria, Nanomedicine, Plasmodium, Targeted drug delivery


Caddeo, C., Manca, M. L., Matos, M., Gutierrez, G., Díez-Sales, O., Peris, J. E., Usach, I., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2017). Functional response of novel bioprotective poloxamer-structured vesicles on inflamed skin Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine 13, (3), 1127-1136

Resveratrol and gallic acid, a lipophilic and a hydrophilic phenol, were co-loaded in innovative, biocompatible nanovesicles conceived for ensuring the protection of the skin from oxidative- and inflammatory-related affections. The basic vesicles, liposomes and glycerosomes, were produced by a simple, one-step method involving the dispersion of phospholipid and phenols in water or water/glycerol blend, respectively. Liposomes and glycerosomes were modified by the addition of poloxamer, a stabilizer and viscosity enhancer, thus obtaining viscous or semisolid dispersions of structured vesicles. The vesicles were spherical, unilamellar and small in size (~70 nm in diameter). The superior ability of the poloxamer-structured vesicles to promote the accumulation of both phenols in the skin was demonstrated, as well as their low toxicity and great ability to protect fibroblasts from chemically-induced oxidative damage. The in vivo administration of the vesicular phenols on TPA (phorbol ester)-exposed skin led to a significant reduction of oedema and leukocyte infiltration.

Keywords: Fibroblasts, Mice, Phenol, Phospholipid vesicle, Poloxamer, Skin inflammation


Valls-Comamala, V., Guivernau, B., Bonet, J., Puig, M., Perálvarez-Marín, A., Palomer, E., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Altafaj, X., Tajes, M., Puig-Pijoan, A., Vicente, R., Oliva, B., Muñoz, F. J., (2017). The antigen-binding fragment of human gamma immunoglobulin prevents amyloid Oncotarget 8, (25), 41154-41165

The amyloid beta-peptide (A

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease, Amyloid, Fab, Immunoglobulin, Oligomers


Caddeo, C., Pons, R., Carbone, C., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Cardia, M. C., Maccioni, A. M., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2017). Physico-chemical characterization of succinyl chitosan-stabilized liposomes for the oral co-delivery of quercetin and resveratrol Carbohydrate Polymers 157, 1853-1861

In the present work, quercetin and resveratrol, natural polyphenols with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, were co-loaded in polymer-associated liposomes conceived for oral delivery, by exploiting the potential of pH-sensitive succinyl-chitosan. Chitosan was succinylated, characterized by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy and Gel Permeation Chromatography, and used to form a protective shell on the surface of liposomes. The physico-chemical properties of the succinyl-chitosan liposomes were assessed by light scattering, zeta potential, cryogenic transmission electron microscopy, and small angle X-ray scattering. Small, spherical, uni- and bilamellar vesicles were produced. The succinyl-chitosan shell increased not only the physical stability of the vesicular system, as demonstrated by accelerated stability tests, but also the release of the polyphenols to a greater extent at pH 7.0, mimicking the intestinal environment. The proposed approach based on polyphenol vesicular formulations may be of value in the treatment of pre-cancerous/cancerous intestinal conditions associated with inflammation and oxidative stress.

Keywords: Antioxidant, Liposome, Oral delivery, Quercetin, Resveratrol, Succinyl-chitosan


Aláez-Versón, C. R., Lantero, E., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2017). Heparin: New life for an old drug Nanomedicine 12, (14), 1727-1744

Heparin is one of the oldest drugs, which nevertheless remains in widespread clinical use as an inhibitor of blood coagulation. The history of its identification a century ago unfolded amid one of the most fascinating scientific controversies turning around the distribution of credit for its discovery. The composition, purification and structure-function relationship of this naturally occurring glycosaminoglycan regarding its classical role as anticoagulant will be dealt with before proceeding to discuss its therapeutic potential in, among other, inflammatory and infectious disease, cancer treatment, cystic fibrosis and Alzheimer's disease. The first bibliographic reference hit using the words 'nanomedicine' and 'heparin' is as recent as 2008. Since then, nanomedical applications of heparin have experienced an exponential growth that will be discussed in detail, with particular emphasis on its antimalarial activity. Some of the most intriguing potential applications of heparin nanomedicines will be exposed, such as those contemplating the delivery of drugs to the mosquito stages of malaria parasites.

Keywords: Anopheles, Antimalarial drugs, Heparin, Malaria, Mosquitoes, Nanomedicine, Nanotechnology, Plasmodium, Targeted drug delivery


Moles, E., Marcos, J., Imperial, S., Pozo, O. J., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2017). 2-picolylamine derivatization for high sensitivity detection of abscisic acid in apicomplexan blood-infecting parasites Talanta 168, 130-135

We have developed a new liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry methodology based on 2-picolylamine derivatization and positive ion mode detection for abscisic acid (ABA) identification. The selected reaction leads to the formation of an amide derivative which contains a highly active pyridyl group. The enhanced ionization allows for a 700-fold increase over commonly monitored unmodified ABA, which in turn leads to excellent limits of detection and quantification values of 0.03 and 0.15 ng mL-1, respectively. This method has been validated in the highly complex matrix of a red blood cell extract. In spite of the high sensitivity achieved, ABA could not be detected in Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells, suggesting that, if present, it will be found either in ultratrace amounts or as brief bursts at defined time points within the intraerythrocytic cycle and/or in the form of a biosynthetic analogue.

Keywords: Abscisic acid, Apicomplexa, Liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry, Malaria, Picolylamine, Plasmodium falciparum


Vitonyte, J., Manca, M. L., Caddeo, C., Valenti, D., Peris, J. E., Usach, I., Nacher, A., Matos, M., Gutiérrez, G., Orrù, G., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2017). Bifunctional viscous nanovesicles co-loaded with resveratrol and gallic acid for skin protection against microbial and oxidative injuries European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics 114, 278-287

Resveratrol and gallic acid were co-loaded in phospholipid vesicles aiming at protecting the skin from external injuries, such as oxidative stress and microbial infections. Liposomes were prepared using biocompatible phospholipids dispersed in water. To improve vesicle stability and applicability, the phospholipids and the phenols were dispersed in water/propylene glycol or water/glycerol, thus obtaining PEVs and glycerosomes, respectively. The vesicles were characterized by size, morphology, physical stability, and their therapeutic efficacy was investigated in vitro. The vesicles were spherical, unilamellar and small in size: liposomes and glycerosomes were around 70 nm in diameter, while PEVs were larger (∼170 nm). The presence of propylene glycol or glycerol increased the viscosity of the vesicle systems, positively affecting their stability. The ability of the vesicles to promote the accumulation of the phenols (especially gallic acid) in the skin was demonstrated, as well as their low toxicity and great ability to protect keratinocytes and fibroblasts from oxidative damage. Additionally, an improvement of the antimicrobial activity of the phenols was shown against different skin pathogens. The co-loading of resveratrol and gallic acid in modified phospholipid vesicles represents an innovative, bifunctional tool for preventing and treating skin affections.

Keywords: Fibroblasts, Keratinocytes, Phenol, Phospholipid vesicle, Skin pathogens


Moles, E., Moll, K., Ch'ng, J. H., Parini, P., Wahlgren, M., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2016). Development of drug-loaded immunoliposomes for the selective targeting and elimination of rosetting Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells Journal of Controlled Release 241, 57-67

Parasite proteins exported to the surface of Plasmodium falciparum-parasitized red blood cells (pRBCs) have a major role in severe malaria clinical manifestation, where pRBC cytoadhesion and rosetting processes have been strongly linked with microvascular sequestration while avoiding both spleen filtration and immune surveillance. The parasite-derived and pRBC surface-exposed PfEMP1 protein has been identified as one of the responsible elements for rosetting and, therefore, considered as a promising vaccine candidate for the generation of rosette-disrupting antibodies against severe malaria. However, the potential role of anti-rosetting antibodies as targeting molecules for the functionalization of antimalarial drug-loaded nanovectors has never been studied. Our manuscript presents a proof-of-concept study where the activity of an immunoliposomal vehicle with a dual performance capable of specifically recognizing and disrupting rosettes while simultaneously eliminating those pRBCs forming them has been assayed in vitro. A polyclonal antibody against the NTS-DBL1

Keywords: Combination therapy, Immunoliposomes, Malaria, Nanomedicine, Rosetting, Targeted drug delivery


Guivernau, B., Bonet, J., Valls-Comamala, V., Bosch-Morató, M., Godoy, J. A., Inestrosa, N. C., Perálvarez-Marín, A., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Andreu, D., Oliva, B., Muñoz, F. J., (2016). Amyloid- Journal of Neuroscience 36, (46), 11693-11703

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the pathological aggregation of the amyloid-

Keywords: Alzheimer, Amyloid, Nitrotyrosination, NMDA Rc, Oligomers, Peroxynitrite


Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2016). Novel strategies for Plasmodium-targeted drug delivery Expert Opinion on Drug Delivery 13, (7), 919-922

Marques, J., Vilanova, Eduardo, Mourão, Paulo A. S., Fernàndez-Busquets, Xavier, (2016). Marine organism sulfated polysaccharides exhibiting significant antimalarial activity and inhibition of red blood cell invasion by Plasmodium Scientific Reports 6, 24368

The antimalarial activity of heparin, against which there are no resistances known, has not been therapeutically exploited due to its potent anticoagulating activity. Here, we have explored the antiplasmodial capacity of heparin-like sulfated polysaccharides from the sea cucumbers Ludwigothurea grisea and Isostichopus badionotus, from the red alga Botryocladia occidentalis, and from the marine sponge Desmapsamma anchorata. In vitro experiments demonstrated for most compounds significant inhibition of Plasmodium falciparum growth at low-anticoagulant concentrations. This activity was found to operate through inhibition of erythrocyte invasion by Plasmodium, likely mediated by a coating of the parasite similar to that observed for heparin. In vivo four-day suppressive tests showed that several of the sulfated polysaccharides improved the survival of Plasmodium yoelii-infected mice. In one animal treated with I. badionotus fucan parasitemia was reduced from 10.4% to undetectable levels, and Western blot analysis revealed the presence of antibodies against P. yoelii antigens in its plasma. The retarded invasion mediated by sulfated polysaccharides, and the ensuing prolonged exposure of Plasmodium to the immune system, can be explored for the design of new therapeutic approaches against malaria where heparin-related polysaccharides of low anticoagulating activity could play a dual role as drugs and as potentiators of immune responses.


Vilanova, Eduardo, Santos, Gustavo R. C., Aquino, Rafael S., Valle-Delgado, Juan J., Anselmetti, Dario, Fernàndez-Busquets, Xavier, Mourão, Paulo A. S., (2016). Carbohydrate-carbohydrate interactions mediated by sulfate esters and calcium provide the cell adhesion required for the emergence of early metazoans Journal of Biological Chemistry 291, (18), 9425-9437

Early metazoans had to evolve the first cell adhesion mechanism addressed to maintain a distinctive multicellular morphology. As the oldest extant animals, sponges are good candidates for possessing remnants of the molecules responsible for this crucial evolutionary innovation. Cell adhesion in sponges is mediated by the calcium-dependent multivalent self-interactions of sulfated polysaccharides components of extracellular membrane-bound proteoglycans, namely aggregation factors. Here, we used atomic force microscopy to demonstrate that the aggregation factor of the sponge Desmapsamma anchorata has a circular supramolecular structure and that it thus belongs to the spongican family. Its sulfated polysaccharide units, which were characterized via nuclear magnetic resonance analysis, consist preponderantly of a central backbone composed of 3-


Credi, C., De Marco, C., Molena, E., Pla Roca, M., Samitier, J., Marques, J., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Levi, M., Turri, S., (2016). Heparin micropatterning onto fouling-release perfluoropolyether-based polymers via photobiotin activation Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces 146, 250-259

A simple method for constructing versatile ordered biotin/avidin arrays on UV-curable perfluoropolyethers (PFPEs) is presented. The goal is the realization of a versatile platform where any biotinylated biological ligands can be further linked to the underlying biotin/avidin array. To this end, microcontact arrayer and microcontact printing technologies were developed for photobiotin direct printing on PFPEs. As attested by fluorescence images, we demonstrate that this photoactive form of biotin is capable of grafting onto PFPEs surfaces during irradiation. Bioaffinity conjugation of the biotin/avidin system was subsequently exploited for further self-assembly avidin family proteins onto photobiotin arrays. The excellent fouling release PFPEs surface properties enable performing avidin assembly step simply by arrays incubation without PFPEs surface passivation or chemical modification to avoid unspecific biomolecule adsorption. Finally, as a proof of principle biotinylated heparin was successfully grafted onto photobiotin/avidin arrays.

Keywords: Antifouling, Heparin, Malaria, Microcontact arrayer, Microcontact printing, Micropatterning, Perfluoropolyether, Photobiotin, Polymers, Soft lithography


Caddeo, C., Nacher, A., Vassallo, A., Armentano, M. F., Pons, R., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Carbone, C., Valenti, D., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2016). Effect of quercetin and resveratrol co-incorporated in liposomes against inflammatory/oxidative response associated with skin cancer International Journal of Pharmaceutics 513, (1-2), 153-163

The present investigation reports the development of liposomes for the co-delivery of naturally occurring polyphenols, namely quercetin and resveratrol. Small, spherical, uni/bilamellar vesicles were produced, as demonstrated by light scattering, cryo-TEM, SAXS. The incorporation of quercetin and resveratrol in liposomes did not affect their intrinsic antioxidant activity, as DPPH radical was almost completely inhibited. The cellular uptake of the polyphenols was higher when they were formulated in liposomes, and especially when co-loaded rather than as single agents, which resulted in a superior ability to scavenge ROS in fibroblasts. The in vivo efficacy of the polyphenols in liposomes was assessed in a mouse model of skin lesion. The topical administration of liposomes led to a remarkable amelioration of the tissue damage, with a significant reduction of oedema and leukocyte infiltration. Therefore, the proposed approach based on polyphenol vesicular formulation may be of value in the treatment of inflammation/oxidative stress associated with pre-cancerous/cancerous skin lesions.

Keywords: Antioxidant, Fibroblast, Liposome, Quercetin, Resveratrol, Skin lesion


Valle-Delgado, J. J., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2016). Rapid diagnostic tests for malaria: Past, present and future Future Microbiology 11, (11), 1379-1382

Moles, Ernest, Valle-Delgado, Juan José, Urbán, Patricia, Azcárate, Isabel G., Bautista, José M., Selva, Javier, Egea, Gustavo, Ventura, Salvador, Fernàndez-Busquets, Xavier, (2015). Possible roles of amyloids in malaria pathophysiology Future Science OA 1, (2), FSO43

The main therapeutic and prophylactic tools against malaria have been locked for more than a century in the classical approaches of using drugs targeting metabolic processes of the causing agent, the protist Plasmodium spp., and of designing vaccines against chosen antigens found on the parasite’s surface. Given the extraordinary resources exhibited by Plasmodium to escape these traditional strategies, which have not been able to free humankind from the scourge of malaria despite much effort invested in them, new concepts have to be explored in order to advance toward eradication of the disease. In this context, amyloid-forming proteins and peptides found in the proteome of the pathogen should perhaps cease being regarded as mere anomalous molecules. Their likely functionality in the pathophysiology of Plasmodium calls for attention being paid to them as a possible Achilles’ heel of malaria. Here we will give an overview of Plasmodium-encoded amyloid-forming polypeptides as potential therapeutic targets and toxic elements, particularly in relation to cerebral malaria and the blood–brain barrier function. We will also discuss the recent finding that the genome of the parasite contains an astonishingly high proportion of prionogenic domains.

Keywords: Amyloids, Intrinsically unstructured proteins, Malaria, Prions


Manca, M. L., Castangia, I., Zaru, M., Nácher, A., Valenti, D., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2015). Development of curcumin loaded sodium hyaluronate immobilized vesicles (hyalurosomes) and their potential on skin inflammation and wound restoring Biomaterials 71, 100-109

In the present work new highly biocompatible nanovesicles were developed using polyanion sodium hyaluronate to form polymer immobilized vesicles, so called hyalurosomes. Curcumin, at high concentration was loaded into hyalurosomes and physico-chemical properties and in vitro/in vivo performances of the formulations were compared to those of liposomes having the same lipid and drug content. Vesicles were prepared by direct addition of dispersion containing the polysaccharide sodium hyaluronate and the polyphenol curcumin to a commercial mixture of soy phospholipids, thus avoiding the use of organic solvents. An extensive study was carried out on the physico-chemical features and properties of curcumin-loaded hyalurosomes and liposomes. Cryogenic transmission electron microscopy and small-angle X-ray scattering showed that vesicles were spherical, uni- or oligolamellar and small in size (112-220 nm). The in vitro percutaneous curcumin delivery studies on intact skin showed an improved ability of hyalurosomes to favour a fast drug deposition in the whole skin. Hyalurosomes as well as liposomes were biocompatible, protected in vitro human keratinocytes from oxidative stress damages and promoted tissue remodelling through cellular proliferation and migration. Moreover, in vivo tests underlined a good effectiveness of curcumin-loaded hyalurosomes to counteract 12-O-tetradecanoilphorbol (TPA)-produced inflammation and injuries, diminishing oedema formation, myeloperoxydase activity and providing an extensive skin reepithelization. Thanks to the one-step and environmentally-friendly preparation method, component biocompatibility and safety, good in vitro and in vivo performances, the hyalurosomes appear as promising nanocarriers for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications.

Keywords: Cell oxidative stress, Hyaluronic acid/Hyaluronan, Phospholipid vesicles, Polyphenols, Skin inflammation, Wound healing


Moles, E., Urbán, P., Jiménez-Díaz, M. B., Viera-Morilla, S., Angulo-Barturen, I., Busquets, M. A., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2015). Immunoliposome-mediated drug delivery to Plasmodium-infected and non-infected red blood cells as a dual therapeutic/prophylactic antimalarial strategy Journal of Controlled Release 210, 217-229

One of the most important factors behind resistance evolution in malaria is the failure to deliver sufficiently high amounts of drugs to early stages of Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs). Despite having been considered for decades as a promising approach, the delivery of antimalarials encapsulated in immunoliposomes targeted to pRBCs has not progressed towards clinical applications, whereas in vitro assays rarely reach drug efficacy improvements above 10-fold. Here we show that encapsulation efficiencies reaching >96% are achieved for the weak basic drugs chloroquine (CQ) and primaquine using the pH gradient loading method in liposomes containing neutral saturated phospholipids. Targeting antibodies are best conjugated through their primary amino groups, adjusting chemical crosslinker concentration to retain significant antigen recognition. Antigens from non-parasitized RBCs have also been considered as targets for the delivery to the cell of drugs not affecting the erythrocytic metabolism. Using this strategy, we have achieved unprecedented complete nanocarrier targeting to early intraerythrocytic stages of the malaria parasite for which there is a lack of specific extracellular molecular tags. Immunoliposomes studded with monoclonal antibodies raised against the erythrocyte surface protein glycophorin A were capable of targeting 100% RBCs and pRBCs at the low concentration of 0.5 μM total lipid in the culture, with >95% of added liposomes retained on cell surfaces. When exposed for only 15 min to Plasmodium falciparum in vitro cultures of early stages, free CQ had no significant effect on the viability of the parasite up to 200 nM, whereas immunoliposomal 50 nM CQ completely arrested its growth. In vivo assays in mice showed that immunoliposomes cleared the pathogen below detectable levels at a CQ dose of 0.5 mg/kg, whereas free CQ administered at 1.75 mg/kg was, at most, 40-fold less efficient. Our data suggest that this significant improvement is in part due to a prophylactic effect of CQ found by the pathogen in its host cell right at the very moment of invasion.

Keywords: Immunoliposomes, Malaria, Nanomedicine, Plasmodium, Targeted drug delivery


Castangia, I., Nácher, A., Caddeo, C., Merino, V., Díez-Sales, O., Catalán-Latorre, A., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2015). Therapeutic efficacy of quercetin enzyme-responsive nanovesicles for the treatment of experimental colitis in rats Acta Biomaterialia 13, 216-227

Biocompatible quercetin nanovesicles were developed by coating polyethylene glycol-containing vesicles with chitosan and nutriose, aimed at targeting the colon. Uncoated and coated vesicles were prepared using hydrogenated soy phosphatidylcholine and quercetin, a potent natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant drug. Physicochemical characterization was carried out by light scattering, cryogenic microscopy and X-ray scattering, the results showing that vesicles were predominantly multilamellar and around 130 nm in size. The in vitro release of quercetin was investigated under different pH conditions simulating the environment of the gastrointestinal tract, and confirmed that the chitosan/nutriose coating improved the gastric resistance of vesicles, making them a potential carrier system for colon delivery. The preferential localization of fluorescent vesicles in the intestine was demonstrated using the In Vivo FX PRO Imaging System. Above all, a marked amelioration of symptoms of 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid-induced colitis was observed in animals treated with quercetin-loaded coated vesicles, favoring the restoration of physiological conditions. Therefore, quercetin-loaded chitosan/nutriose-coated vesicles can represent a valuable therapeutic tool for the treatment of chronic intestinal inflammatory diseases, and presumably a preventive system, due to the synergic action of antioxidant quercetin and beneficial prebiotic effects of the chitosan/nutriose complex.

Keywords: Chitosan/nutriose complex, Colon targeting, Phospholipid vesicles, Quercetin, Rat colitis


Urbán, Patricia, Ranucci, Elisabetta, Fernàndez-Busquets, Xavier, (2015). Polyamidoamine nanoparticles as nanocarriers for the drug delivery to malaria parasite stages in the mosquito vector Nanomedicine 10, (22), 3401-3414

Malaria is arguably one of the main medical concerns worldwide because of the numbers of people affected, the severity of the disease and the complexity of the life cycle of its causative agent, the protist Plasmodium spp. With the advent of nanoscience, renewed hopes have appeared of finally obtaining the long sought-after magic bullet against malaria in the form of a nanovector for the targeted delivery of antimalarial compounds exclusively to Plasmodium-infected cells, thus increasing drug efficacy and minimizing the induction of resistance to newly developed therapeutic agents. Polyamidoamine-derived nanovectors combine into a single chemical structure drug encapsulating capacity, antimalarial activity, low unspecific toxicity, specific targeting to Plasmodium, optimal in vivo activity and affordable synthesis cost. After having shown their efficacy in targeting drugs to intraerythrocytic parasites, now polyamidoamines face the challenge of spearheading a new generation of nanocarriers aiming at the malaria parasite stages in the mosquito vector.


Moles, E., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2015). Loading antimalarial drugs into noninfected red blood cells: An undesirable roommate for Plasmodium Future Medicinal Chemistry 7, (7), 837-840

The malaria parasite, Plasmodium spp., is a delicate unicellular organism unable to survive in free form for more than a couple of minutes in the bloodstream. Upon injection in a human by its Anopheles mosquito vector, Plasmodium sporozoites pass through the liver with the aim of invading hepatocytes. Those which succeed spend inside their host cell a recovery time before replicating and entering the blood circulation as fragile merozoites, although their exposure to host defenses is extraordinarily short. Quick invasion of red blood cells (RBCs) in a process lasting just a few minutes allows the parasite to escape immune system surveillance. For most of its erythrocytic cycle the pathogen feeds mainly on hemoglobin as it progresses from the early blood stages, termed rings, to the late forms trophozoites and schizonts. Early stages are ideal targets for antimalarial therapies because drugs delivered to them would have a longer time to kill the parasite before it completes its development. However, only 6 h after invasion does the permeability of the infected erythrocyte to anions and small nonelectrolytes, including some drugs, start to increase as the parasite matures [1]. During this maturation process the parasite hydrolyzes hemoglobin in a digestive vacuole, which is the target of many amphiphilic drugs that freely cross the RBC membrane and accumulate intracellularly. As a result, most antimalarials start affecting the infected cell relatively late in the intraerythrocytic parasite life cycle, when their effect is probably often too short to be lethal to Plasmodium.

Keywords: Malaria, Nanomedicine, Plasmodium, Red blood cell, Targeted drug delivery


Castangia, I., Manca, M. L., Matricardi, P., Catalán-Latorre, A., Nácher, A., Diez-Sales, O., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2015). Effects of ethanol and diclofenac on the organization of hydrogenated phosphatidylcholine bilayer vesicles and their ability as skin carriers Journal of Materials Science: Materials in Medicine 26, 137

In this study, the effects of ethanol and/or diclofenac on vesicle bilayer structure have been studied. Liposomes with hydrogenated soy phosphatidylcholine, cholesterol and two different concentrations of diclofenac sodium (5 and 10 mg/ml) were obtained. In addition, ethanol was mixed in the water phase at different concentrations (5, 10 and 20 % v/v) to obtain ethosomes. To characterize vesicles, rehological analysis were carried out to investigate the intervesicle interactions, while bilayer structure was evaluated by small- and wide-angle X-ray scattering. Finally, the ethanol and/or diclofenac concentration-dependent ability to improve diclofenac skin delivery was evaluated in vitro. The addition of 20 % ethanol and/or diclofenac led to solid-like ethosome dispersion due to the formation of a new intervesicle structure, as previously found in transcutol containing vesicle dispersions. However, when using 5–10 % of ethanol the induction to form vesicle interconnections was less evident but the simultaneous presence of the drug at the highest concentration facilitated this phenomenon. Ethosomes containing the highest amount of both, drug (10 mg/ml) and ethanol (20 % v/v), improved the drug deposition in the skin strata and in the receptor fluid up to 1.5-fold, relative to liposomes. Moreover this solid-like formulation can easily overcome drawbacks of traditional liquid liposome formulations which undergo a substantial loss at the application site.


Fernàndez-Busquets, X., de Groot, N.S., Ventura, S., (2015). Structural and computational insights into conformational diseases: A review Frontiers in Medicinal Chemistry (ed. Atta-ur-Rahman, Reitz, A.B., Choudhary, I, Wang, J.), Bentham Science Publishers (Bussum, The Netherlands) 7, 134-182

Protein aggregation correlates with the development of several deleterious human disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, prion-associated transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, type II diabetes and several types of cancers. The polypeptides involved in these disorders may be globular proteins with a defined 3Dstructure or natively unfolded proteins in their soluble conformations. In either case, proteins associated with these pathogenesis all aggregate into amyloid fibrils sharing a common structure, in which


Pujol, A., Urbán, P., Riera, C., Fisa, R., Molina, I., Salvador, F., Estelrich, J., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2014). Application of quantum dots to the study of liposome targeting in leishmaniasis and malaria International Journal of Theoretical and Applied Nanotechnology 2, (1), 1-8

Nanotechnological devices for therapeutic applications are massively addressed to diseases prevalent in the developed world, particularly cancer, because of the wrong assumption (for both ethical and technical reasons) that nanomedicines are too expensive and thus they can not be applied to diseases of poverty. Here we have applied quantum dots to study at the cellular level the delivery of the contents of liposomes to erythrocytes infected by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and to macrophages infected by the leishmaniasis causative agent Leishmania infantum. A number of works have reported on the encapsulation in liposomes of drugs against both diseases as a strategy to increase therapeutic efficacy and decrease unspecific toxicity. Liposome-carried drugs end up inside Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs) and in the phagolysosome system of Leishmania-infected macrophages but some knowledge gaps still obscure subcellular events related to these processes. As a proof of concept, we have used confocal fluorescence microscopy to follow the fate in pRBCs and infected macrophages of quantum dots encapsulated in liposomes, and of lysosomes, leishmaniasis and malaria parasites, nuclei, and phagosomes. Our data indicate that liposomes merge their lipid bilayers with pRBC plasma membranes but are engulfed by macrophages, where they fuse with lysosomes. Lysosomes have not been observed to join with phagosomes harboring single Leishmania parasites, whereas in phagosomes where the parasite has divided there is lysosome-specific fluorescence with a concomitant disappearance of lysosomes from the cytosol. In later stages, all the lysosome-specific label is found inside phagosomes whereas the phagosomal marker cadaverine strongly stains the macrophage nucleus, suggesting that Leishmania infection induces in its later stages nuclear degeneration and, possibly, apoptosis of the host cell. These results indicate that induction of macrophage apoptosis should be explored as a possible strategy used by Leishmania to prepare its egress.

Keywords: Leishmania infantum, Leishmaniasis Liposomes, Malaria, Nanomedicine, Nanotechnology, Plasmodium falciparum, Quantum dots


Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2014). Toy kit against malaria: Magic bullets, LEGO, Trojan horses and Russian dolls Therapeutic Delivery 5, (10), 1049-1052

Movellan, J., Urbán, P., Moles, E., de la Fuente, J. M., Sierra, T., Serrano, J. L., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2014). Amphiphilic dendritic derivatives as nanocarriers for the targeted delivery of antimalarial drugs Biomaterials 35, (27), 7940-7950

It can be foreseen that in a future scenario of malaria eradication, a varied armamentarium will be required, including strategies for the targeted administration of antimalarial compounds. The development of nanovectors capable of encapsulating drugs and of delivering them to Plasmodium-infected cells with high specificity and efficacy and at an affordable cost is of particular interest. With this objective, dendritic derivatives based on 2,2-bis(hydroxymethyl)propionic acid (bis-MPA) and Pluronic® polymers have been herein explored. Four different dendritic derivatives have been tested for their capacity to encapsulate the antimalarial drugs chloroquine (CQ) and primaquine (PQ), their specific targeting to Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs), and their antimalarial activity invitro against the human pathogen Plasmodium falciparum and invivo against the rodent malaria species Plasmodium yoelii. The results obtained have allowed the identification of two dendritic derivatives exhibiting specific targeting to pRBCs vs. non-infected RBCs, which reduce the invitro IC50 of CQ and PQ by ca. 3- and 4-fold down to 4.0nm and 1.1μm, respectively. This work on the application of dendritic derivatives to antimalarial targeted drug delivery opens the way for the use of this new type of chemicals in future malaria eradication programs.

Keywords: Antimalarial targeted drug delivery, Dendrimers, Malaria, Nanomedicine, Plasmodium, Polymeric nanoparticles


Urbán, P., Valle-Delgado, J. J., Mauro, N., Marques, J., Manfredi, A., Rottmann, M., Ranucci, E., Ferruti, P., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2014). Use of poly(amidoamine) drug conjugates for the delivery of antimalarials to Journal of Controlled Release 177, (1), 84-95

Current malaria therapeutics demands strategies able to selectively deliver drugs to Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs) in order to limit the appearance of parasite resistance. Here, the poly(amidoamines) AGMA1 and ISA23 have been explored for the delivery of antimalarial drugs to pRBCs. AGMA1 has antimalarial activity per se as shown by its inhibition of the in vitro growth of Plasmodium falciparum, with an IC50 of 13.7 μM. Fluorescence-assisted cell sorting data and confocal fluorescence microscopy and transmission electron microscopy images indicate that both polymers exhibit preferential binding to and internalization into pRBCs versus RBCs, and subcellular targeting to the parasite itself in widely diverging species such as P. falciparum and Plasmodium yoelii, infecting humans and mice, respectively. AGMA1 and ISA23 polymers with hydrodynamic radii around 7 nm show a high loading capacity for the antimalarial drugs primaquine and chloroquine, with the final conjugate containing from 14.2% to 32.9% (w/w) active principle. Intraperitoneal administration of 0.8 mg/kg chloroquine as either AGMA1 or ISA23 salts cured P. yoelii-infected mice, whereas control animals treated with twice as much free drug did not survive. These polymers combining into a single chemical structure drug carrying capacity, low unspecific toxicity, high biodegradability and selective internalization into pRBCs, but not in healthy erythrocytes for human and rodent malarias, may be regarded as promising candidates deserving to enter the antimalarial therapeutic arena.

Keywords: Malaria, Nanomedicine, Plasmodium, Polyamidoamines, Polymer-drug carriers, Targeted drug delivery


Marques, J., Moles, E., Urbán, P., Prohens, R., Busquets, M. A., Sevrin, C., Grandfils, C., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2014). Application of heparin as a dual agent with antimalarial and liposome targeting activities toward Plasmodium-infected red blood cells Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine 10, (8), 1719-1728

Heparin had been demonstrated to have antimalarial activity and specific binding affinity for Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs) vs. non-infected erythrocytes. Here we have explored if both properties could be joined into a drug delivery strategy where heparin would have a dual role as antimalarial and as a targeting element of drug-loaded nanoparticles. Confocal fluorescence and transmission electron microscopy data show that after 30. min of being added to living pRBCs fluorescein-labeled heparin colocalizes with the intracellular parasites. Heparin electrostatically adsorbed onto positively charged liposomes containing the cationic lipid 1,2-dioleoyl-3-trimethylammonium-propane and loaded with the antimalarial drug primaquine was capable of increasing three-fold the activity of encapsulated drug in Plasmodium falciparum cultures. At concentrations below those inducing anticoagulation of mouse blood in vivo, parasiticidal activity was found to be the additive result of the separate activities of free heparin as antimalarial and of liposome-bound heparin as targeting element for encapsulated primaquine. From the Clinical Editor: Malaria remains an enormous global public health concern. In this study, a novel functionalized heparin formulation used as drug delivery agent for primaquine was demonstrated to result in threefold increased drug activity in cell cultures, and in a murine model it was able to provide these benefits in concentrations below what would be required for anticoagulation. Further studies are needed determine if this approach is applicable in the human disease as well.

Keywords: Heparin, Liposomes, Malaria, Plasmodium, Targeted drug delivery, Heparin, Malaria, Plasmodium, Red blood cell, Targeted drug delivery, Liposomes, 1,2 dioleoyl 3 trimethylammoniopropane, fluorescein, heparin, liposome, nanoparticle, primaquine, adsorption, animal experiment, anticoagulation, antimalarial activity, Article, binding affinity, confocal microscopy, controlled study, drug targeting, encapsulation, erythrocyte, female, fluorescence microscopy, human, human cell, in vivo study, liposomal delivery, mouse, nonhuman, Plasmodium falciparum, transmission electron microscopy


Paaijmans, Krijn, Fernàndez-Busquets, Xavier, (2014). Antimalarial drug delivery to the mosquito: an option worth exploring? Future Microbiology 9, (5), 579-582

Manca, M. L., Castangia, I., Matricardi, P., Lampis, S., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2014). Molecular arrangements and interconnected bilayer formation induced by alcohol or polyalcohol in phospholipid vesicles Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces 117, 360-367

A self-assembled hybrid phospholipid vesicular system containing various penetration enhancers - ethanol, Transcutol and propylenglycol - was prepared and characterized. The effects of the different alcohol or polyalcohols structure and their concentration on the features of the assembled vesicles were evaluated using a combination of different techniques, including cryo-transmission electron microscopy, laser light scattering, differential scanning calorimetry, small- and wide-angle X-ray scattering and rheological analysis. These techniques allow explaining the structural rearrangements of the bilayer assembly due to the alcohol or polyalcohol addition. X-ray scattering studies showed that such addition at the highest concentration (20%) allowed structure modification to oligolamellar vesicles and a bilayer transition to interdigitated phase. Rheological studies confirmed the importance of alcohol or polyalcohol in the structuring dispersions probably due to a partial tilting of phosphatidylcholine acyl chains forming interdigitated and interconnected bilayer vesicles.

Keywords: (Poly)alcohols, Cryo-TEM, DSC, Liposomes, Penetration Enhancer containing Vesicle (PEVs), Rheology, SAXS


Ramos-Fernández, E., Tajes, M., Palomer, E., Ill-Raga, G., Bosch-Morató, M., Guivernau, B., Román-Dégano, I., Eraso-Pichot, A., Alcolea, D., Fortea, J., Nuñez, L., Paez, A., Alameda, F., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Lleó, A., Elosúa, R., Boada, M., Valverde, M. A., Muñoz, F. J., (2014). Posttranslational nitro-glycative modifications of albumin in Alzheimer's disease: Implications in cytotoxicity and amyloid- Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 40, (3), 643-657

Glycation and nitrotyrosination are pathological posttranslational modifications that make proteins prone to losing their physiological properties. Since both modifications are increased in Alzheimer's disease (AD) due to amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) accumulation, we have studied their effect on albumin, the most abundant protein in cerebrospinal fluid and blood. Brain and plasmatic levels of glycated and nitrated albumin were significantly higher in AD patients than in controls. In vitro turbidometry and electron microscopy analyses demonstrated that glycation and nitrotyrosination promote changes in albumin structure and biochemical properties. Glycated albumin was more resistant to proteolysis and less uptake by hepatoma cells occurred. Glycated albumin also reduced the osmolarity expected for a solution containing native albumin. Both glycation and nitrotyrosination turned albumin cytotoxic in a cell type-dependent manner for cerebral and vascular cells. Finally, of particular relevance to AD, these modified albumins were significantly less effective in avoiding Aβ aggregation than native albumin. In summary, nitrotyrosination and especially glycation alter albumin structural and biochemical properties, and these modifications might contribute for the progression of AD.

Keywords: Albumin, Alzheimer's disease, amyloid, glycation, nitrotyrosination, oxidative stress


Urbán, P., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2014). Nanomedicine against malaria Current Medicinal Chemistry 21, (5), 605-629

Malaria is arguably one of the main medical concerns worldwide because of the numbers of people affected, the severity of the disease and the complexity of the life cycle of its causative agent, the protist Plasmodium sp. The clinical, social and economic burden of malaria has led for the last 100 years to several waves of serious efforts to reach its control and eventual eradication, without success to this day. With the advent of nanoscience, renewed hopes have appeared of finally obtaining the long sought-after magic bullet against malaria in the form of a nanovector for the targeted delivery of antimalarial drugs exclusively to Plasmodium-infected cells. Different types of encapsulating structure, targeting molecule, and antimalarial compound will be discussed for the assembly of Trojan horse nanocapsules capable of targeting with complete specificity diseased cells and of delivering inside them their antimalarial cargo with the objective of eliminating the parasite with a single dose. Nanotechnology can also be applied to the discovery of new antimalarials through single-molecule manipulation approaches for the identification of novel drugs targeting essential molecular components of the parasite. Finally, methods for the diagnosis of malaria can benefit from nanotools applied to the design of microfluidic-based devices for the accurate identification of the parasite's strain, its precise infective load, and the relative content of the different stages of its life cycle, whose knowledge is essential for the administration of adequate therapies. The benefits and drawbacks of these nanosystems will be considered in different possible scenarios, including cost-related issues that might be hampering the development of nanotechnology-based medicines against malaria with the dubious argument that they are too expensive to be used in developing areas.

Keywords: Dendrimers, Liposomes, Malaria diagnosis, Nanobiosensors, Nanoparticles, Plasmodium, Polymers, Targeted drug delivery


Caddeo, C., Díez-Sales, O., Pons, R., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2014). Topical anti-inflammatory potential of quercetin in lipid-based nanosystems: In vivo and in vitro evaluation Pharmaceutical Research 31, (4), 959-968

Purpose: To develop quercetin-loaded phospholipid vesicles, namely liposomes and PEVs (Penetration Enhancer-containing Vesicles), and to investigate their efficacy on TPA-induced skin inflammation. Methods: Vesicles were made from a mixture of phospholipids, quercetin and polyethylene glycol 400 (PEG), specifically added to increase drug solubility and penetration through the skin. Vesicle morphology and self-assembly were probed by Cryo-Transmission Electron Microscopy and Small/Wide Angle X-ray Scattering, as well as the main physico-chemical features by Light Scattering. The anti-inflammatory efficacy of quercetin nanovesicles was assessed in vivo on TPA-treated mice dorsal skin by the determination of two biomarkers: oedema formation and myeloperoxidase activity. The uptake of vesicles by 3T3 fibroblasts was also evaluated. Results: Small spherical vesicles were produced. Their size and lamellarity was strongly influenced by the PEG content (0%, 5%, 10% v/v). The administration of vesicular quercetin on TPA-inflamed skin resulted in an amelioration of the tissue damage, with a noticeable attenuation of oedema and leukocyte infiltration, especially using 5% PEG-PEVs, as also confirmed by confocal microscopy. In vitro studies disclosed a massive uptake and diffusion of PEVs in dermal fibroblasts. Conclusions: The proposed approach based on quercetin vesicular formulations may be of value in the treatment of inflammatory skin disorders.


Le Roux, D., Burger, P. B., Niemand, J., Grobler, A., Urbán, P., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Barker, R. H., Serrano, A. E., I. Louw, A., Birkholtz, L. M., (2014). Novel S-adenosyl-L-methionine decarboxylase inhibitors as potent antiproliferative agents against intraerythrocytic International Journal for Parasitology: Drugs and Drug Resistance 4, (1), 28-36

S-adenosyl-l-methionine decarboxylase (AdoMetDC) in the polyamine biosynthesis pathway has been identified as a suitable drug target in Plasmodium falciparum parasites, which causes the most lethal form of malaria. Derivatives of an irreversible inhibitor of this enzyme, 5'-{[(Z)-4-amino-2-butenyl]methylamino}-5'-deoxyadenosine (MDL73811), have been developed with improved pharmacokinetic profiles and activity against related parasites, Trypanosoma brucei. Here, these derivatives were assayed for inhibition of AdoMetDC from P. falciparum parasites and the methylated derivative, 8-methyl-5'-{[(Z)-4-aminobut-2-enyl]methylamino}-5'-deoxyadenosine (Genz-644131) was shown to be the most active. The in vitro efficacy of Genz-644131 was markedly increased by nanoencapsulation in immunoliposomes, which specifically targeted intraerythrocytic P. falciparum parasites.

Keywords: Immunoliposomes, Plasmodium, Polyamines, S-adenosyl-l-methionine decarboxylase


Tajes, M., Ramos-Fernández, E., Weng-Jiang, X., Bosch-Morató, M., Guivernau, B., Eraso-Pichot, A., Salvador, B., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Roquer, J., Muñoz, F. J., (2014). The blood-brain barrier: Structure, function and therapeutic approaches to cross it Molecular Membrane Biology 31, (5), 152-167

The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is constituted by a specialized vascular endothelium that interacts directly with astrocytes, neurons and pericytes. It protects the brain from the molecules of the systemic circulation but it has to be overcome for the proper treatment of brain cancer, psychiatric disorders or neurodegenerative diseases, which are dramatically increasing as the population ages. In the present work we have revised the current knowledge on the cellular structure of the BBB and the different procedures utilized currently and those proposed to cross it. Chemical modifications of the drugs, such as increasing their lipophilicity, turn them more prone to be internalized in the brain. Other mechanisms are the use of molecular tools to bind the drugs such as small immunoglobulins, liposomes or nanoparticles that will act as Trojan Horses favoring the drug delivery in brain. This fusion of the classical pharmacology with nanotechnology has opened a wide field to many different approaches with promising results to hypothesize that BBB will not be a major problem for the new generation of neuroactive drugs. The present review provides an overview of all state-of-the-art of the BBB structure and function, as well as of the classic strategies and these appeared in recent years to deliver drugs into the brain for the treatment of Central Nervous System (CNS) diseases.

Keywords: Blood brain barrier, Drug delivery, Membrane transport


Valle-Delgado, J. J., Urbán, P., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2013). Demonstration of specific binding of heparin to Plasmodium falciparum-infected vs. non-infected red blood cells by single-molecule force spectroscopy Nanoscale 5, (9), 3673-3680

Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) play an important role in the sequestration of Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells (pRBCs) in the microvascular endothelium of different tissues, as well as in the formation of small clusters (rosettes) between infected and non-infected red blood cells (RBCs). Both sequestration and rosetting have been recognized as characteristic events in severe malaria. Here we have used heparin and pRBCs infected by the 3D7 strain of P. falciparum as a model to study GAG-pRBC interactions. Fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence-assisted cell sorting assays have shown that exogenously added heparin has binding specificity for pRBCs (preferentially for those infected with late forms of the parasite) vs. RBCs. Heparin-pRBC adhesion has been probed by single-molecule force spectroscopy, obtaining an average binding force ranging between 28 and 46 pN depending on the loading rate. No significant binding of heparin to non-infected RBCs has been observed in control experiments. This work represents the first approach to quantitatively evaluate GAG-pRBC molecular interactions at the individual molecule level.


Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2013). Amyloid fibrils in neurodegenerative diseases: villains or heroes? Future Medicinal Chemistry 5, (16), 1903-1906

Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2013). Heparin-functionalized nanocapsules: Enabling targeted delivery of antimalarial drugs Future Medicinal Chemistry 5, (7), 737-739

Castangia, I., Manca, M. L., Matricardi, P., Sinico, C., Lampis, S., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Fadda, A. M., Manconi, M., (2013). Effect of diclofenac and glycol intercalation on structural assembly of phospholipid lamellar vesicles International Journal of Pharmaceutics 456, (1), 1-9

The aim of the current study was to improve the knowledge of drug-glycol-phospholipid-interactions and their effects in lamellar vesicle suitability as drug delivery systems. Liposomes were prepared using hydrogenated soy phosphatidylcholine (P90H, 60. mg/ml) and diclofenac sodium salt at two concentrations (5-10. mg/ml). To obtain innovative vesicles two permeation enhancers with glycol group, diethyleneglycol monoethyl ether and propylene glycol, were added to the water phase at different ratios (5%, 10%, and 20%).Vesicle organization was deeply investigated by physico-chemical characterization, including differential scanning calorimetry and small-angle diffraction signal analysis while macroscopic structure behavior was evaluated by rheological studies. Results evidenced that the presence of the penetration enhancer and diclofenac sodium salt led to structural rearrangements within and among vesicles forming a tridimensional and complex architecture in which vesicles were closely packed and interconnected. This new design allowed a change in the physical state of dispersions that became highly viscous liquid or soft-solid-like, thus forming an ideal system for topical application able of both adhering to the skin and delivering the drug.


Pujol, A., Riera, C., Fisa, R., Molina, I., Salvador, F., Estelrich, J., Urbán, P., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2013). Nanomedicine for infectious diseases: Application of quantum dots encapsulated in immunoliposomes to the study of targeted drug delivery against leishmaniasis and malaria Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Nanotechnology: Fundamentals and Applications. 4th International Conference on Nanotechnology: Fundamentals and Applications , International ASET Inc. (Ontario, Canada) , 1-8

Nanotechnological devices for therapeutic applications are massively addressed to diseases prevalent in the developed world, particularly cancer, because of the wrong assumption (for both ethical and technical reasons) that nanomedicines are too expensive and thus they can not be applied to diseases of poverty. Here we have applied quantum dots to study at the cellular level the delivery of the contents of immunoliposomes to erythrocytes infected by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and to macrophages infected by the leishmaniasis causative agent Leishmania infantum. A number of works have reported on the encapsulation in liposomes of drugs against both diseases as a strategy to increase therapeutic efficacy and decrease unspecific toxicity. Liposome-carried drugs end up inside Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs) and in the phagolysosome system of Leishmania-infected macrophages but some knowledge gaps still obscure subcellular events related to these processes. As a proof of concept, we have used confocal fluorescence microscopy to follow the fate in pRBCs and L. infantum-infected macrophages of quantum dots encapsulated in liposomes, and of lysosomes, Leishmania and Plasmodium parasites, nuclei, and phagosomes. Our data indicate that liposomes merge their lipid bilayers with pRBC plasma membranes but are engulfed by macrophages, where they fuse with lysosomes. Lysosomes have not been observed to join with phagosomes harboring single L. infantum parasites, whereas in phagosomes where the parasite has divided there is lysosome-specific fluorescence with a concomitant disappearance of lysosomes from the cytosol. In later stages, all the lysosome-specific label is found inside phagosomes whereas the phagosomal marker cadaverine strongly stains the macrophage nucleus, suggesting that L. infantum infection induces in its later stages nuclear degeneration and possibly, apoptosis of the host cell. These results indicate that induction of macrophage apoptosis should be explored as a possible strategy used by L. infantum to prepare its egress.

Keywords: Leishmania infantum, Leishmaniasis, Liposomes, Malaria, Nanomedicine, Nanotechnology, Plasmodium falciparum, Quantum dots


Mir, Mònica , Tahirbegi, Islam Bogachan , Valle-Delgado, Juan José , Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Samitier, Josep , (2012). In vitro study of magnetite-amyloid Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine 8, (6), 974-980

Biogenic magnetite (Fe3O4) has been identified in human brain tissue. However, abnormal concentration of magnetite nanoparticles in the brain has been observed in different neurodegenerative pathologies. In the case of Alzheimer's disease (AD), these magnetic nanoparticles have been identified attached to the characteristic brain plaques, which are mainly formed by fibrils of amyloid

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease, Biogenic magnetite, Amyloid β peptide (Aβ), Superconducting quantum interference, Scanning electron microscope, Surface plasmon resonance, Magnetic force microscopy


Valle-Delgado, J. J., Liepina, I., Lapidus, D., Sabaté, R., Ventura, S., Samitier, J., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2012). Self-assembly of human amylin-derived peptides studied by atomic force microscopy and single molecule force spectroscopy Soft Matter 8, (4), 1234-1242

The self-assembly of peptides and proteins into amyloid fibrils of nanometric thickness and up to several micrometres in length, a phenomenon widely observed in biological systems, has recently aroused a growing interest in nanotechnology and nanomedicine. Here we have applied atomic force microscopy and single molecule force spectroscopy to study the amyloidogenesis of a peptide derived from human amylin and of its reverse sequence. The spontaneous formation of protofibrils and their orientation along well-defined directions on graphite and DMSO-coated graphite substrates make the studied peptides interesting candidates for nanotechnological applications. The measured binding forces between peptides correlate with the number of hydrogen bonds between individual peptides inside the fibril structure according to molecular dynamics simulations.

Keywords: Amyloid fibril, Amyloidogenesis, Binding forces, Fibril structure, Graphite substrate, Molecular dynamics simulations, Nanometrics, Protofibrils, Single molecule force spectroscopy, Spontaneous formation, Atomic force microscopy, Atomic spectroscopy, Graphite, Hydrogen bonds, Medical nanotechnology, Molecular dynamics, Molecular physics, Self assembly, Thickness measurement, Peptides


Villar-Pique, A., De Groot, N. S., Sabaté, R., Acebrón, S. P., Celaya, G., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Muga, A., Ventura, S., (2012). The effect of amyloidogenic peptides on bacterial aging correlates with their intrinsic aggregation propensity Journal of Molecular Biology 421, (2-3), 270-281

The formation of aggregates by misfolded proteins is thought to be inherently toxic, affecting cell fitness. This observation has led to the suggestion that selection against protein aggregation might be a major constraint on protein evolution. The precise fitness cost associated with protein aggregation has been traditionally difficult to evaluate. Moreover, it is not known if the detrimental effect of aggregates on cell physiology is generic or depends on the specific structural features of the protein deposit. In bacteria, the accumulation of intracellular protein aggregates reduces cell reproductive ability, promoting cellular aging. Here, we exploit the cell division defects promoted by the intracellular aggregation of Alzheimer's-disease-related amyloid β peptide in bacteria to demonstrate that the fitness cost associated with protein misfolding and aggregation is connected to the protein sequence, which controls both the in vivo aggregation rates and the conformational properties of the aggregates. We also show that the deleterious impact of protein aggregation on bacterial division can be buffered by molecular chaperones, likely broadening the sequential space on which natural selection can act. Overall, the results in the present work have potential implications for the evolution of proteins and provide a robust system to experimentally model and quantify the impact of protein aggregation on cell fitness.

Keywords: Amyloid fibrils, Chaperones, Escherichia coli, Inclusion bodies, Protein aggregation


Urban, P., Valle-Delgado, J. J., Moles, E., Marques, J., Diez, C., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2012). Nanotools for the delivery of antimicrobial peptides Current Drug Targets 13, (9), 1158-1172

Antimicrobial peptide drugs are increasingly attractive therapeutic agents as their roles in physiopathological processes are being unraveled and because the development of recombinant DNA technology has made them economically affordable in large amounts and high purity. However, due to lack of specificity regarding the target cells, difficulty in attaining them, or reduced half-lives, most current administration methods require high doses. On the other hand, reduced specificity of toxic drugs demands low concentrations to minimize undesirable side-effects, thus incurring the risk of having sublethal amounts which favour the appearance of resistant microbial strains. In this scenario, targeted delivery can fulfill the objective of achieving the intake of total quantities sufficiently low to be innocuous for the patient but that locally are high enough to be lethal for the infectious agent. One of the major advances in recent years has been the size reduction of drug carriers that have dimensions in the nanometer scale and thus are much smaller than -and capable of being internalized by- many types of cells. Among the different types of potential antimicrobial peptide-encapsulating structures reviewed here are liposomes, dendritic polymers, solid core nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, and DNA cages. These nanoparticulate systems can be functionalized with a plethora of biomolecules providing specificity of binding to particular cell types or locations; as examples of these targeting elements we will present antibodies, DNA aptamers, cell-penetrating peptides, and carbohydrates. Multifunctional Trojan horse-like nanovessels can be engineered by choosing the adequate peptide content, encapsulating structure, and targeting moiety for each particular application.

Keywords: Antibodies, Aptamers, Dendrimers, Liposomes, Nanomedicine, Nanoparticles, Nanovectors, Targeting


Urban, Patricia, Estelrich, Joan, Cortés, Alfred, Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2011). A nanovector with complete discrimination for targeted delivery to Plasmodium falciparum-infected versus non-infected red blood cells in vitro Journal of Controlled Release 151, (2), 202-211

Current administration methods of antimalarial drugs deliver the free compound in the blood stream, where it can be unspecifically taken up by all cells, and not only by Plasmodium-infected red blood cells (pRBCs). Nanosized carriers have been receiving special attention with the aim of minimizing the side effects of malaria therapy by increasing drug bioavailability and selectivity. Liposome encapsulation has been assayed for the delivery of compounds against murine malaria, but there is a lack of cellular studies on the performance of targeted liposomes in specific cell recognition and on the efficacy of cargo delivery, and very little data on liposome-driven antimalarial drug targeting to human-infecting parasites. We have used fluorescence microscopy to assess in vitro the efficiency of liposomal nanocarriers for the targeted delivery of their contents to pRBCs. 200-nm liposomes loaded with quantum dots were covalently functionalized with oriented, specific half-antibodies against P. falciparum late form-infected pRBCs. In less than 90 min, liposomes dock to pRBC plasma membranes and release their cargo to the cell. 100.0% of late form-containing pRBCs and 0.0% of non-infected RBCs in P. falciparum cultures are recognized and permeated by the content of targeted immunoliposomes. Liposomes not functionalized with antibodies are also specifically directed to pRBCs, although with less affinity than immunoliposomes. In preliminary assays, the antimalarial drug chloroquine at a concentration of 2 nM, >= 10 times below its IC50 in solution, cleared 26.7 ± 1.8% of pRBCs when delivered inside targeted immunoliposomes.

Keywords: Antimalarial chemotherapy, Chloroquine, Half-antibodies, Immunoliposomes, Malaria, Nanomedicine


Urban, Patricia, Estelrich, Joan, Adeva, Alberto, Cortes, Alfred, Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2011). Study of the efficacy of antimalarial drugs delivered inside targeted immunoliposomal nanovectors Nanoscale Research Letters 6, (1), 620

Paul Ehrlich's dream of a 'magic bullet' that would specifically destroy invading microbes is now a major aspect of clinical medicine. However, a century later, the implementation of this medical holy grail continues being a challenge in three main fronts: identifying the right molecular or cellular targets for a particular disease, having a drug that is effective against it, and finding a strategy for the efficient delivery of sufficient amounts of the drug in an active state exclusively to the selected targets. In a previous work, we engineered an immunoliposomal nanovector for the targeted delivery of its contents exclusively to Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells [pRBCs]. In preliminary assays, the antimalarial drug chloroquine showed improved efficacy when delivered inside immunoliposomes targeted with the pRBC-specific monoclonal antibody BM1234. Because difficulties in determining the exact concentration of the drug due to its low amounts prevented an accurate estimation of the nanovector performance, here, we have developed an HPLC-based method for the precise determination of the concentrations in the liposomal preparations of chloroquine and of a second antimalarial drug, fosmidomycin. The results obtained indicate that immunoliposome encapsulation of chloroquine and fosmidomycin improves by tenfold the efficacy of antimalarial drugs. The targeting antibody used binds preferentially to pRBCs containing late maturation stages of the parasite. In accordance with this observation, the best performing immunoliposomes are those added to Plasmodium cultures having a larger number of late form-containing pRBCs. An average of five antibody molecules per liposome significantly improves in cell cultures the performance of immunoliposomes over non-functionalized liposomes as drug delivery vessels. Increasing the number of antibodies on the liposome surface correspondingly increases performance, with a reduction of 50% parasitemia achieved with immunoliposomes encapsulating 4 nM chloroquine and bearing an estimated 250 BM1234 units. The nanovector prototype described here can be a valuable platform amenable to modification and improvement with the objective of designing a nanostructure adequate to enter the preclinical pipeline as a new antimalarial therapy.

Keywords: Plasmodium falciparum, Antimalarial drug, Nanovector, Immuno-liposomes


Valle-Delgado, J. J., Alfonso-Prieto, M., de Groot, N. S., Ventura, S., Samitier, J., Rovira, C., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2010). Modulation of A beta(42) fibrillogenesis by glycosaminoglycan structure FASEB Journal 24, (11), 4250-4261

The role of amyloid beta (A beta) peptide in the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease is linked to the presence of soluble A beta species. Sulfated glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) promote A beta fibrillogenesis and reduce the toxicity of the peptide in neuronal cell cultures, but a satisfactory rationale to explain these effects at the molecular level has not been provided yet. We have used circular dichroism, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, fluorescence microscopy and spectroscopy, protease digestion, atomic force microscopy (AFM), and molecular dynamics simulations to characterize the association of the 42-residue fragment A beta(42) with sulfated GAGs, hyaluronan, chitosan, and poly(vinyl sulfate) (PVS). Our results indicate that the formation of stable A beta(42) fibrils is promoted by polymeric GAGs with negative charges placed in-frame with the 4.8-angstrom separating A beta(42) monomers within protofibrillar beta-sheets. Incubation of A beta(42) with excess sulfated GAGs and hyaluronan increased amyloid fibril content and resistance to proteolysis 2- to 5-fold, whereas in the presence of the cationic polysaccharide chitosan, A beta(42) fibrillar species were reduced by 25% and sensitivity to protease degradation increased similar to 3-fold. Fibrils of intermediate stability were obtained in the presence of PVS, an anionic polymer with more tightly packed charges than GAGs. Important structural differences between A beta(42) fibrils induced by PVS and A beta(42) fibrils obtained in the presence of GAGs and hyaluronan were observed by AFM, whereas mainly precursor protofibrillar forms were detected after incubation with chitosan. Computed binding energies per peptide from -11.2 to -13.5 kcal/mol were calculated for GAGs and PVS, whereas a significantly lower value of -7.4 kcal/mol was obtained for chitosan. Taken together, our data suggest a simple and straightforward mechanism to explain the role of GAGs as enhancers of the formation of insoluble A beta(42) fibrils trapping soluble toxic forms.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease, Amyloid fibril structure, Fibrillogenesis enhancers and inhibitors, Polysaccharides


Sisquella, X., de Pourcq, K., Alguacil, J., Robles, J., Sanz, F., Anselmetti, D., Imperial, S., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2010). A single-molecule force spectroscopy nanosensor for the identification of new antibiotics and antimalarials FASEB Journal 24, (11), 4203-4217

An important goal of nanotechnology is the application of individual molecule handling techniques to the discovery of potential new therapeutic agents. Of particular interest is the search for new inhibitors of metabolic routes exclusive of human pathogens, such as the 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol-4-phosphate (MEP) pathway essential for the viability of most human pathogenic bacteria and of the malaria parasite. Using atomic force microscopy single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS), we have probed at the single-molecule level the interaction of 1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate synthase (DXS), which catalyzes the first step of the MEP pathway, with its two substrates, pyruvate and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. The data obtained in this pioneering SMFS analysis of a bisubstrate enzymatic reaction illustrate the substrate sequentiality in DXS activity and allow for the calculation of catalytic parameters with single-molecule resolution. The DXS inhibitor fluoropyruvate has been detected in our SMFS competition experiments at a concentration of 10 mu M, improving by 2 orders of magnitude the sensitivity of conventional enzyme activity assays. The binding of DXS to pyruvate is a 2-step process with dissociation constants of k(off) = 6.1 x 10(-4) +/- 7.5 x 10(-3) and 1.3 x 10(-2) +/- 1.0 x 10(-2) s(-1), and reaction lengths of x(beta) = 3.98 +/- 0.33 and 0.52 +/- 0.23 angstrom. These results constitute the first quantitative report on the use of nanotechnology for the biodiscovery of new antimalarial enzyme inhibitors and open the field for the identification of compounds represented only by a few dozens of molecules in the sensor chamber.

Keywords: Malaria, 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol-4-phosphate pathway, 1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate synthase, Pyruvate, Glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate, Drug discovery


Valente, T., Gella, A., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Unzeta, M., Durany, N., (2010). Immunohistochemical analysis of human brain suggests pathological synergism of Alzheimer's disease and diabetes mellitus Neurobiology of Disease 37, (1), 67-76

It has been extensively reported that diabetes mellitus (DM) patients have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (AD). but a mechanistic connection between both pathologies has not been provided so far Carbohydrate-derived advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) have been implicated in the chronic complications of DM and have been reported to play an important role in the pathogenesis of AD. The earliest histopathological manifestation of AD is the apparition of extracellular aggregates of the amyloid beta peptide (A beta). To investigate possible correlations between AGEs and A beta aggregates with both pathologies. we have performed an immuhistochemical study in human post-mortem samples of AD, AD with diabetes (ADD). diabetic and nondemented controls ADD brains showed increased number of A beta dense plaques and receptor for AGEs (RACE)-positive and Tau-positive cells, higher AGEs levels and major microglial activation, compared to AD brain. Our results indicate that ADD patients present a significant increase of cell damage through a RAGE-dependent mechanism, suggesting that AGEs may promote the generation of an oxidative stress vicious cycle, which can explain the severe progression of patients with both pathologies.

Keywords: Abeta, Alzheimer's disease, Rage, Ages, Diabetes, Immunohistochemistry, Advanced glycation endproducts, Beta-amyloid peptide, End-products, Oxidative stress, Advanced glycosylation, Synaptic dysfunction, Cross-linking


Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Ponce, J., Bravo, R., Arimon, M., Martianez, T., Gella, A., Cladera, J., Durany, N., (2010). Modulation of amyloid beta peptide(1-42) cytotoxicity and aggregation in vitro by glucose and chondroitin sulfate Current Alzheimer Research 7, (5), 428-438

One mechanism leading to neurodegeneration during Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is amyloid beta peptide (A beta)-induced neurotoxicity. Among the factors proposed to potentiate A beta toxicity is its covalent modification through carbohydrate-derived advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). Other experimental evidence, though, indicates that certain polymeric carbohydrates like the glycosaminoglycan (GAG) chains found in proteoglycan molecules attenuate the neurotoxic effect of A beta in primary neuronal cultures. Pretreatment of the 42-residue A beta fragment (A beta(1-42)) with the ubiquitous brain carbohydrates, glucose, fructose, and the GAG chondroitin sulfate B (CSB) inhibits A beta beta(1-42)-induced apoptosis and reduces the peptide neurotoxicity on neuroblastoma cells, a cytoprotective effect that is partially reverted by AGE inhibitors such as pyridoxamine and L-carnosine. Thioflavin T fluorescence measurements indicate that at concentrations close to physiological, only CSB promotes the formation of A beta amyloid fibril structure. Atomic force microscopy imaging and Western blot analysis suggest that glucose favours the formation of globular oligomeric structures derived from aggregated species. Our data suggest that at short times carbohydrates reduce A beta(1-42) toxicity through different mechanisms both dependent and independent of AGE formation.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease, Advanced glycation endproducts, Amyloid fibrils, Amyloid beta peptide, Apoptosis, Carbohydrates, Glycosaminoglycans


Gallego, I., Oncins, G., Sisquella, X., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Daban, J. R., (2010). Nanotribology results show that DNA forms a mechanically resistant 2D network in metaphase chromatin plates Biophysical Journal 99, (12), 3951-3958

In a previous study, we found that metaphase chromosomes are formed by thin plates, and here we have applied atomic force microscopy (AFM) and friction force measurements at the nanoscale (nanotribology) to analyze the properties of these planar structures in aqueous media at room temperature. Our results show that high concentrations of NaCl and EDTA and extensive digestion with protease and nuclease enzymes cause plate denaturation. Nanotribology studies show that native plates under structuring conditions (5 mM Mg2+) have a relatively high friction coefficient ( ≈ 0.3), which is markedly reduced when high concentrations of NaCl or EDTA are added ( ≈ 0.1). This lubricant effect can be interpreted considering the electrostatic repulsion between DNA phosphate groups and the AFM tip. Protease digestion increases the friction coefficient ( ≈ 0.5), but the highest friction is observed when DNA is cleaved by micrococcal nuclease ( ≈ 0.9), indicating that DNA is the main structural element of plates. Whereas nuclease-digested plates are irreversibly damaged after the friction measurement, native plates can absorb kinetic energy from the AFM tip without suffering any damage. These results suggest that plates are formed by a flexible and mechanically resistant two-dimensional network which allows the safe storage of DNA during mitosis.

Keywords: -----


Harder, A., Walhorn, V., Dierks, T., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Anselmetti, D., (2010). Single-molecule force spectroscopy of cartilage aggrecan self-adhesion Biophysical Journal 99, (10), 3498-3504

We investigated self-adhesion between highly negatively charged aggrecan macromolecules extracted from bovine cartilage extracellular matrix by performing atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging and single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS) in saline solutions. By controlling the density of aggrecan molecules on both the gold substrate and the gold-coated tip surface at submonolayer densities, we were able to detect and quantify the Ca2+-dependent homodimeric interaction between individual aggrecan molecules at the single-molecule level. We found a typical nonlinear sawtooth profile in the AFM force-versus-distance curves with a molecular persistence length of I-p = 0.31 +/- 0.04 nm. This is attributed to the stepwise dissociation of individual glycosaminoglycan (GAG) side chains in aggrecans, which is very similar to the known force fingerprints of other cell adhesion proteoglycan systems. After studying the GAG-GAG dissociation in a dynamic, loading-rate-dependent manner (dynamic SMFS) and analyzing the data according to the stochastic Bell-Evans model for a thermally activated decay of a metastable state under an external force, we estimated for the single glycan interaction a mean lifetime of tau = 7.9 +/- 4.9 s and a reaction bond length of x(beta) = 0.31 +/- 0.08 nm. Whereas the x(beta)-value compares well with values from other cell adhesion carbohydrate recognition motifs in evolutionary distant marine sponge proteoglycans, the rather short GAG interaction lifetime reflects high intermolecular dynamics within aggrecan complexes, which may be relevant for the viscoelastic properties of cartilage tissue.

Keywords: Bovine nasal cartilage, Articular-cartilage, Sinorhizobium-meliloti, Proteoglycan, Microscopy, DNA, Macromolecules, Binding, Protein, Glycosaminoglycans


Sabaté, R., Espargaró, A., de Groot, N. S., Valle-Delgado, J. J., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Ventura, S., (2010). The role of protein sequence and amino acid composition in amyloid formation: Scrambling and backward reading of IAPP amyloid fibrils Journal of Molecular Biology 404, (2), 337-352

The specific functional structure of natural proteins is determined by the way in which amino acids are sequentially connected in the polypeptide. The tight sequence/structure relationship governing protein folding does not seem to apply to amyloid fibril formation because many proteins without any sequence relationship have been shown to assemble into very similar β-sheet-enriched structures. Here, we have characterized the aggregation kinetics, seeding ability, morphology, conformation, stability, and toxicity of amyloid fibrils formed by a 20-residue domain of the islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP), as well as of a backward and scrambled version of this peptide. The three IAPP peptides readily aggregate into ordered, β-sheet-enriched, amyloid-like fibrils. However, the mechanism of formation and the structural and functional properties of aggregates formed from these three peptides are different in such a way that they do not cross-seed each other despite sharing a common amino acid composition. The results confirm that, as for globular proteins, highly specific polypeptide sequential traits govern the assembly pathway, final fine structure, and cytotoxic properties of amyloid conformations.

Keywords: Amyloid formation, Islet amyloid polypeptide, Protein aggregation, Protein sequence, Retro proteins


Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Körnig, A., Bucior, I., Burger, M. M., Anselmetti, D., (2009). Self-recognition and Ca2+-dependent carbohydrate-carbohydrate cell adhesion provide clues to the cambrian explosion Molecular Biology and Evolution 26, (11), 2551-2561

The Cambrian explosion of life was a relatively short period approximately 540 Ma that marked a generalized acceleration in the evolution of most animal phyla, but the trigger of this key biological event remains elusive. Sponges are the oldest extant Precambrian metazoan phylum and thus a valid model to study factors that could have unleashed the rise of multicellular animals. One such factor is the advent of self-/non-self-recognition systems, which would be evolutionarily beneficial to organisms to prevent germ-cell parasitism or the introduction of deleterious mutations resulting from fusion with genetically different individuals. However, the molecules responsible for allorecognition probably evolved gradually before the Cambrian period, and some other (external) factor remains to be identified as the missing triggering event. Sponge cells associate through calcium-dependent, multivalent carbohydrate-carbohydrate interactions of the g200 glycan found on extracellular proteoglycans. Single molecule force spectroscopy analysis of g200-g200 binding indicates that calcium affects the lifetime (+Ca/-Ca: 680 s/3 s) and bond reaction length (+Ca/-Ca: 3.47 /2.27). Calculation of mean g200 dissociation times in low and high calcium within the theoretical framework of a cooperative binding model indicates the nonlinear and divergent characteristics leading to either disaggregated cells or stable multicellular assemblies, respectively. This fundamental phenomenon can explain a switch from weak to strong adhesion between primitive metazoan cells caused by the well-documented rise in ocean calcium levels at the end of Precambrian time. We propose that stronger cell adhesion allowed the integrity of genetically uniform animals composed only of "self" cells, facilitating genetic constitutions to remain within the metazoan individual and be passed down inheritance lines. The Cambrian explosion might have been triggered by the coincidence in time of primitive animals endowed with self-/non-self-recognition and of a surge in seawater calcium that increased the binding forces between their calcium-dependent cell adhesion molecules.

Keywords: Calcium, Cambrian explosion, Carbohydrates, Cell adhesion, Origin of Metazoa, Sponges


Guix, F. X., Ill-Raga, G., Bravo, R., Nakaya, T., de Fabritiis, G., Coma, M., Miscione, G. P., Villa-Freixa, J., Suzuki, T., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Valverde, M. A., de Strooper, B., Munoz, F. J., (2009). Amyloid-dependent triosephosphate isomerase nitrotyrosination induces glycation and tau fibrillation Brain 132, (5), 1335-1345

Alzheimer's disease neuropathology is characterized by neuronal death, amyloid beta-peptide deposits and neurofibrillary tangles composed of paired helical filaments of tau protein. Although crucial for our understanding of the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease, the molecular mechanisms linking amyloid beta-peptide and paired helical filaments remain unknown. Here, we show that amyloid beta-peptide-induced nitro-oxidative damage promotes the nitrotyrosination of the glycolytic enzyme triosephosphate isomerase in human neuroblastoma cells. Consequently, nitro-triosephosphate isomerase was found to be present in brain slides from double transgenic mice overexpressing human amyloid precursor protein and presenilin 1, and in Alzheimer's disease patients. Higher levels of nitro-triosephosphate isomerase (P < 0.05) were detected, by Western blot, in immunoprecipitates from hippocampus (9 individuals) and frontal cortex (13 individuals) of Alzheimer's disease patients, compared with healthy subjects (4 and 9 individuals, respectively). Triosephosphate isomerase nitrotyrosination decreases the glycolytic flow. Moreover, during its isomerase activity, it triggers the production of the highly neurotoxic methylglyoxal (n = 4; P < 0.05). The bioinformatics simulation of the nitration of tyrosines 164 and 208, close to the catalytic centre, fits with a reduced isomerase activity. Human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells overexpressing double mutant triosephosphate isomerase (Tyr164 and 208 by Phe164 and 208) showed high methylglyoxal production. This finding correlates with the widespread glycation immunostaining in Alzheimer's disease cortex and hippocampus from double transgenic mice overexpressing amyloid precursor protein and presenilin 1. Furthermore, nitro-triosephosphate isomerase formed large beta-sheet aggregates in vitro and in vivo, as demonstrated by turbidometric analysis and electron microscopy. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and atomic force microscopy studies have demonstrated that nitro-triosephosphate isomerase binds tau monomers and induces tau aggregation to form paired helical filaments, the characteristic intracellular hallmark of Alzheimer's disease brains. Our results link oxidative stress, the main etiopathogenic mechanism in sporadic Alzheimer's disease, via the production of peroxynitrite and nitrotyrosination of triosephosphate isomerase, to amyloid beta-peptide-induced toxicity and tau pathology.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease, Amyloid β-peptide, Tau protein, Triosephosphate isomerase, Peroxynitrite


Pla, D., Sischka, A., Albericio, F., Alvarez, M., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Anselmetti, D., (2009). Optical-tweezers study of topoisomerase inhibition Small 5, (11), 1269-1272

Optical tweezers force-stretching of highly nicked dsDNA, as indicated by the large hysteresis area (black and red curves). Topoisomerase activity is evidenced by a higher level plateau and a complete vanishing of the overstretching hysteresis (green curve), indicating total repair of the DNA nicks. The arrow indicates a drop in the stretching curve resulting from topoisomerase cleavage during the cycle.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, DNA, Lamellarin D, Optical tweezers, Topoisomerase


Gimenez-Oya, V., Villacanas, O., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Rubio-Martinez, J., Imperial, S., (2009). Mimicking direct protein-protein and solvent-mediated interactions in the CDP-methylerythritol kinase homodimer: a pharmacophore-directed virtual screening approach Journal of Molecular Modeling 15, (8), 997-1007

The 2C-methylerythritol 4-phosphate (MEP) pathway for the biosynthesis of isopentenyl pyrophosphate and its isomer dimethylallyl pyrophosphate, which are the precursors of isoprenoids, is present in plants, in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and in most eubacteria, including pathogenic agents. However, the MEP pathway is absent from fungi and animals, which have exclusively the mevalonic acid pathway. Given the characteristics of the MEP pathway, its enzymes represent potential targets for the generation of selective antibacterial, antimalarial and herbicidal molecules. We have focussed on the enzyme 4-(cytidine 5'-diphospho)-2-C-methyl-D: -erythritol kinase (CMK), which catalyses the fourth reaction step of the MEP pathway. A molecular dynamics simulation was carried out on the CMK dimer complex, and protein-protein interactions analysed, considering also water-mediated interactions between monomers. In order to find small molecules that bind to CMK and disrupt dimer formation, interactions observed in the dynamics trajectory were used to model a pharmacophore used in database searches. Using an intensity-fading matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry approach, one compound was found to interact with CMK. The data presented here indicate that a virtual screening approach can be used to identify candidate molecules that disrupt the CMK-CMK complex. This strategy can contribute to speeding up the discovery of new antimalarial, antibacterial, and herbicidal compounds.

Keywords: Solvent-mediated interactions, Protein-protein interactions, Molecular dynamics, Drug design, Intensisty-fading MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry


Rodriguez-Segui, S. A., Bucior, I., Burger, M. M., Errachid, A., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2009). Application of the quartz crystal microbalance to the study of multivalent carbohydrate-carbohydrate adhesion Sensor Letters 6th Maghreb-Europe Meeting on Materials and Their Applications for Devices and Physical, Chemical and Biological Sensors , AMER SCIENTIFIC PUBLISHERS (Rabat, Morocco) 7, (5), 782-787

Carbohydrate-carbohydrate interactions in cell adhesion are being increasingly explored as important players in cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix interactions that are characterized by finelytuned on-off rates. The emerging field of glycomics requires the application of new methodologies to the study of the generally weak and multivalent carbohydrate binding sites. Here we use the quartz crystal microbalance (QCM) for the analysis of the self-binding activity of the g200 glycan, a molecule of marine sponge origin that is responsible for Ca2+-dependent species-specific cell adhesion. The QCM has the advantages over other highly sensitive techniques of having only one of the interacting partners bound to a surface, and of lacking microfluidics circuits prone to be clogged by self-aggregating glycans. Our results show that g200 self-interaction is negligible in the absence of Ca2+. Different association kinetics at low and high Ca2+ concentrations suggest the existence of two different Ca2+ binding sites in g200. Finally, the observation of a non-saturable binding indicates that g200 has more than one self-adhesion site per molecule. This work represents the first report to date using the QCM to study carbohydrate-carbohydrate interactions involved in cell adhesion.

Keywords: Ca2+-dependent binding, Carbohydrate-carbohydrate interaction, Cell adhesion, Proteoglycan, Quartz crystal microbalance, Sponges


Bravo, R., Arimon, M., Valle-Delgado, J. J., Garcia, R., Durany, N., Castel, S., Cruz, M., Ventura, S., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2008). Sulfated polysaccharides promote the assembly of amyloid beta(1-42) peptide into stable fibrils of reduced cytotoxicity Journal of Biological Chemistry 283, (47), 32471-32483

The histopathological hallmarks of Alzheimer disease are the self-aggregation of the amyloid beta peptide (A beta) in extracellular amyloid fibrils and the formation of intraneuronal Tau filaments, but a convincing mechanism connecting both processes has yet to be provided. Here we show that the endogenous polysaccharide chondroitin sulfate B (CSB) promotes the formation of fibrillar structures of the 42-residue fragment, A beta(1-42). Atomic force microscopy visualization, thioflavin T fluorescence, CD measurements, and cell viability assays indicate that CSB-induced fibrils are highly stable entities with abundant beta-sheet structure that have little toxicity for neuroblastoma cells. We propose a wedged cylinder model for A beta(1-42) fibrils that is consistent with the majority of available data, it is an energetically favorable assembly that minimizes the exposure of hydrophobic areas, and it explains why fibrils do not grow in thickness. Fluorescence measurements of the effect of different A beta(1-42) species on Ca2+ homeostasis show that weakly structured nodular fibrils, but not CSB-induced smooth fibrils, trigger a rise in cytosolic Ca2+ that depends on the presence of both extracellular and intracellular stocks. In vitro assays indicate that such transient, local Ca2+ increases can have a direct effect in promoting the formation of Tau filaments similar to those isolated from Alzheimer disease brains.

Keywords: AFM, Alzheimers-disease, Chondroitin sulfate, Heparan-sulfate, Lipid-bilayers, Beta-peptide, In-vitro, Neurodegenerative diseases, Extracellular-matrix, Prion protein


Morell, M., Bravo, R., Espargaro, A., Sisquella, X., Aviles, F. X., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Ventura, S., (2008). Inclusion bodies: Specificity in their aggregation process and amyloid-like structure Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Cell Research 1783, (10), 1815-1825

The accumulation of aggregated protein in the cell is associated with the pathology of many diseases and constitutes a major concern in protein production. Intracellular aggregates have been traditionally regarded as nonspecific associations of misfolded polypeptides. This view is challenged by studies demonstrating that, in vitro, aggregation often involves specific interactions. However, little is known about the specificity of in vivo protein deposition. Here, we investigate the degree of in vivo co-aggregation between two self-aggregating proteins, A beta A2 amyloid peptide and foot-and-mouth disease virus VP1 capsid protein, in prokaryotic cells. In addition, the ultrastructure of intracellular aggregates is explored to decipher whether amyloid fibrils and intracellular protein inclusions share structural properties. The data indicate that in vivo protein aggregation exhibits a remarkable specificity that depends on the establishment of selective interactions and results in the formation of oligomeric and fibrillar structures displaying amyloid-like properties. These features allow prokaryotic A beta A2 intracellular aggregates to act as effective seeds in the formation of A beta A2 amyloid fibrils. overall, our results suggest that conserved mechanisms underlie protein aggregation in different organisms. They also have important implications for biotechnological and biomedical applications of recombinant polypeptides.

Keywords: Protein aggregation, Inclusion bodies, Conformational diseases, Amyloid fibrils, Protein folding


Sabella, C., Faszewski, E., Himic, L., Colpitts, K. M., Kaltenbach, J., Burger, M. M., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2007). Cyclosporin A suspends transplantation reactions in the marine sponge Microciona prolifera Journal of Immunology 179, (9), 5927-5935

Sponges are the simplest extant animals but nevertheless possess self-nonself recognition that rivals the specificity of the vertebrate MHC. We have used dissociated cell assays and grafting techniques to study tissue acceptance and rejection in the marine sponge Microciona prolifera. Our data show that allogeneic, but not isogeneic, cell contacts trigger cell death and an increased expression of cell adhesion and apoptosis markers in cells that accumulate in graft interfaces. Experiments investigating the possible existence of immune memory in sponges indicate that faster second set reactions are nonspecific. Among the different cellular types, gray cells have been proposed to be the sponge immunocytes. Fluorescence confocal microscopy results from intact live grafts show the migration of autofluorescent gray cells toward graft contact zones and the inhibition of gray cell movements in the presence of nontoxic concentrations of cyclosporin A. These results suggest that cell motility is an important factor involved in sponge self/nonself recognition. Communication between gray cells in grafted tissues does not require cell contact and is carried by an extracellular diffusible marker. The finding that a commonly used immunosuppressor in human transplantation such as cyclosporin A blocks tissue rejection in marine sponges indicates that the cellular mechanisms for regulating this process in vertebrates might have appeared at the very start of metazoan evolution.


Rodriguez, Segui, Bucior, I., Burger, M. M., Samitier, J., Errachid, A., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2007). Application of a bio-QCM to study carbohydrates self-interaction in presence of calcium Transducers '07 & Eurosensors Xxi, Digest of Technical Papers 14th International Conference on Solid-State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems , IEEE (Lyon, France) 1-2, 1995-1998

In the past years, the quartz crystal microbalance (QCM) has been successfully applied to follow interfacial physical chemistry phenomena in a label free and real time manner. However, carbohydrate self adhesion has only been addressed partially using this technique. Carbohydrates play an important role in cell adhesion, providing a highly versatile form of attachment, suitable for biologically relevant recognition events in the initial steps of adhesion. Here, we provide a QCM study of carbohydrates' self-recognition in the presence of calcium, based on a species-specific cell recognition model provided by marine sponges. Our results show a difference in adhesion kinetics when varying either the calcium concentration (with a constant carbohydrate concentration) or the carbohydrate concentration (with constant calcium concentration).

Keywords: Biomedical materials, Calcium, Cellular biophysics, Microbalances, Porous materials, Quartz, Surface chemistry/ bio-QCM, Carbohydrates self-interaction, Quartz crystal microbalance, Interfacial physical chemistry phenomena, Carbohydrate self adhesion, Biologically relevant recognition events, Marine sponges, Adhesion kinetics, Calcium concentration, Carbohydrate concentration, Biosensors, Biomedical materials, Surface chemistry, Cellular biophysics


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