The Nanomalaria group is a joint unit affiliated with IBEC and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), located in the Esther Koplowitz Centre near Hospital Clínic (Barcelona).

Xavier Fernàndez-Busquets | Group Leader
Livia Neves Borgheti Cardoso | Postdoctoral Researcher
Ernest Moles Meler | Postdoctoral Researcher
Arnau Biosca Romanillos | PhD Student
Inés Bouzón Arnáiz | PhD Student
Elena Lantero Escolar | PhD Student
Elisabet Martí Coma-Cros | Laboratory Technician
Lucía Gutiérrez Chamorro | Laboratory Assistant
Yunuen Avalos Padilla | Visiting Researcher
Carlota Roca Martinez | Visiting Researcher


The current activity of the Nanomalaria group is focused on the development of nanomedicine-based systems to be applied to malaria prophylaxis, diagnosis and therapy.

Figure 1. Cryo-transmission electron microscope image of liposomes being assayed for the encapsulation of drugs specifically targeted to red blood cells infected by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. CryoTEM image artistic editing by Marc Cirera,

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. 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. 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 have to be considered in different possible scenarios, including economy-related issues that are hampering the progress of nanotechnology-based medicines against malaria with the dubious argument that they are too expensive to be used in developing areas. Unfortunately, it is true that the application of nanoscience to infectious disease has been traditionally neglected, with most research resources overwhelmingly biased towards other pathologies more prominent in the developed world. Thus, extra ingenuity is demanded from us: malaria-oriented nanomedicines not only need to work spotless; they have to do so in a cost-efficient way because they will be deployed in low-income regions.

Figure 2. Scheme depicting the proposed interaction of ssDNA with core histones. This hypothetical model is consistent with the observed interaction of a fixed histone mass (here represented in yellow as a core particle octamer) with equal lengths of dsDNA and ssDNA.

The driving force of the Nanomalaria group is our personal commitment to applying nanomedicine to infectious diseases of poverty through several research lines: (i) Exploration of different types of encapsulating structure (liposomes, synthetic and natural polymers), targeting molecule (protein, polysaccharide, nucleic acid), and antimalarial compound (e.g. new structures derived from marine organisms and antimicrobial peptides) for the assembly of nanovectors capable of delivering their drug cargo with complete specificity to diseased cells. (ii) Study of metabolic pathways present in Plasmodium but absent in humans, with the aim of identifying specific enzymes as therapeutic targets. (iii) Use of glycosaminoglycans for innovative antimalarial strategies. (iv) Design of new methods for the targeted drug delivery to Plasmodium stages in the mosquito vector. (v) Investigation of novel drugs against insect-borne diseases working through radically new mechanisms. (vi) Extension of our activities to new pathologies (leishmaniasis).


“A Short (Hi)story of Malaria”

Nanomalaria joint unit group leader Xavier Fernàndez-Busquets is the author of a serialised post on Health ISGlobal, the blog of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

An effective strategy for the targeted delivery of new antimalarials

Xavier Fernаndez Busquets’ joint IBEC-ISGlobal Nanomalaria group has moved a step closer to the validation of immunoliposomes as a vehicle for antimalarial drugs by showing that they increase the efficacy of lipohilic (poorly soluble) compounds in a mouse model of malaria.

Liposomes image is Pinacoteca winner for April

An image from Xavier Fernandez-Busquets’ Nanomalaria joint unit has been selected as Image of the Month for April 2017 for the Pinacoteca de la Ciencia, a competition run by the Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM).

Drug-loaded nanovectors covered with antibodies represent an innovative approach to combat malaria

A study led by Xavier Fernández Busquets, director of the joint ISGlobal-IBEC Nanomalaria unit, describes an innovative approach to selectively eliminate red blood cells infected by Plasmodium falciparum, avoid their aggregation, and inhibit parasite growth.

New strategies to combat malaria: heparin and nanomedicine

The Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and the biotech firm Bioiberica have signed a partnership agreement to study the development of new compounds derived from heparin to combat malaria.

Looking to the ocean for malaria solutions

Researchers have found heparin-like molecules with reduced blood-thinning activity that can be used for therapeutic approaches against malaria – in sea cucumbers, red algae and marine sponges.

New malaria strategy proposes using unaffected red blood cells as drug carriers

IBEC and ISGlobal’s joint unit, Nanomalaria, has published a new therapeutic strategy against malaria.

Heparin exhibits dual activity against malaria

A study by researchers from IBEC, ISGlobal and the University of Barcelona published in Nanomedicine opens the door to improved treatment of malaria with heparin.

IBEC and Israeli Ministry of Health join forces to promote nanomedicine

IBEC’s Xavier Fernández-Busquets appears in a video produced by the EU-funded ERA-NET project EuroNanoMed on “Drug Delivery: The Use of Nanoparticles in Medicine”.

Nanoparticles as drug carriers for malaria

A study by researchers from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and the Barcelona Centre for International Health Research (CRESIB) demonstrates that an antimalarial drug encapsulated in nanoparticles—chloroquine salts in polyamidoamine polymers—is significantly more effective when delivered in vivo than free (unencapsulated) drugs and may help to curb drug resistance.

“Nanorobots de disseny per atacar la malària”

IBEC Director and Head of Nanobioengineering, Josep Samitier, and the head of the joint IBEC/CRESIB unit on Nanomalaria, Xavier Fernández-Busquets, both featured in an article in the Catalan daily newspaper Ara this weekend.

A promising strategy to target malaria

A paper by the Nanobioengineering group reveals a new strategy for targeted malaria treatment that doesn’t rely on the use of expensive antibodies.


European projects
NANOpheles Development of nanovectors for the targeted delivery in Anopheles mosquitoes of agents blocking transmission of Plasmodium parasites (2017-2020) EURONANOMED III: European innovative research & technological development projects in nanomedicine Xavier Fernández- Busquets
National projects
Amphoteric polyamidoamines as innovative tools to selectively direct antimalarial drugs towards Plasmodium-infected red blood cells Fundación CARIPLO Xavier Fernández- Busquets
NANOMALNET Exploración de nuevas moléculas direccionadoras eficientes para la liberación de antimaláricos Biotechnology Programme, MINECO, Spain (BIO2011-25039) Xavier Fernández-Busquets
NANOMISSION Ingeniería de nanovectores para la liberación de fármacos antimaláricos a fases de transmisión de Plasmodium MINECO, Retos investigación: Proyectos I+D Xavier Fernández- Busquets
Privately-funded projects
Identificació de fraccions d’heparina com a noves teràpies antimalàriques Bioiberica, S.A. Xavier Fernández- Busquets


Moles, E., Galiano, S., Gomes, A., Quiliano, M., Teixeira, C., Aldana, I., Gomes, P., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2017). ImmunoPEGliposomes for the targeted delivery of novel lipophilic drugs to red blood cells in a falciparum malaria murine model Biomaterials 145, 178-191

Most drugs currently entering the clinical pipeline for severe malaria therapeutics are of lipophilic nature, with a relatively poor solubility in plasma and large biodistribution volumes. Low amounts of these compounds do consequently accumulate in circulating Plasmodium-infected red blood cells, exhibiting limited antiparasitic activity. These drawbacks can in principle be satisfactorily dealt with by stably encapsulating drugs in targeted nanocarriers. Here this approach has been adapted for its use in immunocompetent mice infected by the Plasmodium yoelii 17XL lethal strain, selected as a model for human blood infections by Plasmodium falciparum. Using immunoliposomes targeted against a surface protein characteristic of the murine erythroid lineage, the protocol has been applied to two novel antimalarial lipophilic drug candidates, an aminoquinoline and an aminoalcohol. Large encapsulation yields of >90% were obtained using a citrate-buffered pH gradient method and the resulting immunoliposomes reached in vivo erythrocyte targeting and retention efficacies of >80%. In P. yoelii-infected mice, the immunoliposomized aminoquinoline succeeded in decreasing blood parasitemia from severe to uncomplicated malaria parasite densities (i.e. from ≥25% to ca. 5%), whereas the same amount of drug encapsulated in non-targeted liposomes had no significant effect on parasite growth. Pharmacokinetic analysis indicated that this good performance was obtained with a rapid clearance of immunoliposomes from the circulation (blood half-life of ca. 2 h), suggesting a potential for improvement of the proposed model.

Keywords: Immunoliposomes, Malaria, Nanomedicine, Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium yoelii 17XL, Targeted drug delivery

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 β-peptide folding into β-sheet to form oligomers Oncotarget 8, (25), 41154-41165

The amyloid beta-peptide (Aβ) plays a leading role in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) physiopathology. Even though monomeric forms of Aβ are harmless to cells, Aβ can aggregate into β-sheet oligomers and fibrils, which are both neurotoxic. Therefore, one of the main therapeutic approaches to cure or delay AD onset and progression is targeting Aβ aggregation. In the present study, we show that a pool of human gamma immunoglobulins (IgG) protected cortical neurons from the challenge with Aβ oligomers, as assayed by MTT reduction, caspase-3 activation and cytoskeleton integrity. In addition, we report the inhibitory effect of IgG on Aβ aggregation, as shown by Thioflavin T assay, size exclusion chromatography and atomic force microscopy. Similar results were obtained with Palivizumab, a human anti-sincitial virus antibody. In order to dissect the important domains, we cleaved the pool of human IgG with papain to obtain Fab and Fc fragments. Using these cleaved fragments, we functionally identified Fab as the immunoglobulin fragment inhibiting Aβ aggregation, a result that was further confirmed by an in silico structural model. Interestingly, bioinformatic tools show a highly conserved structure able to bind amyloid in the Fab region. Overall, our data strongly support the inhibitory effect of human IgG on Aβ aggregation and its neuroprotective role.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease, Amyloid, Immunoglobulin, Fab, 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

Wang, Y., van Merwyk, L., Tönsing, K., Walhorn, V., Anselmetti, D., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2017). Biophysical characterization of the association of histones with single-stranded DNA Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects 1861, (11), 2739-2749

Background: Despite the profound current knowledge of the architecture and dynamics of nucleosomes, little is known about the structures generated by the interaction of histones with single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), which is widely present during replication and transcription. Methods: Non-denaturing gel electrophoresis, transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, magnetic tweezers. Results: Histones have a high affinity for ssDNA in 0.15 M NaCl ionic strength, with an apparent binding constant similar to that calculated for their association with double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). The length of DNA (number of nucleotides in ssDNA or base pairs in dsDNA) associated with a fixed core histone mass is the same for both ssDNA and dsDNA. Although histone-ssDNA complexes show a high tendency to aggregate, nucleosome-like structures are formed at physiological salt concentrations. Core histones are able to protect ssDNA from digestion by micrococcal nuclease, and a shortening of ssDNA occurs upon its interaction with histones. The purified (+) strand of a cloned DNA fragment of nucleosomal origin has a higher affinity for histones than the purified complementary (−) strand. Conclusions: At physiological ionic strength histones have high affinity for ssDNA, possibly associating with it into nucleosome-like structures. General significance: In the cell nucleus histones may spontaneously interact with ssDNA to facilitate their participation in the replication and transcription of chromatin.

Keywords: Electrophoresis, Force spectroscopy, Histones, Magnetic tweezers, Nucleosome, Single-stranded DNA

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-DBL1α N-terminal domain of a rosetting PfEMP1 variant has been selected as targeting molecule and lumefantrine as the antimalarial payload. After 30 min incubation with 2 μM encapsulated drug, a 70% growth inhibition for all parasitic forms in culture (IC50: 414 nM) and a reduction in ca. 60% of those pRBCs with a rosetting phenotype (IC50: 747 nM) were achieved. This immunoliposomal approach represents an innovative combination therapy for the improvement of severe malaria therapeutics having a broader spectrum of activity than either anti-rosetting antibodies or free drugs on their own.

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-β peptide nitrotyrosination stabilizes oligomers and enhances NMDAR-mediated toxicity Journal of Neuroscience 36, (46), 11693-11703

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the pathological aggregation of the amyloid-β peptide (Aβ). Monomeric soluble Aβ can switch from helicoidal to β-sheet conformation, promoting its assembly into oligomers and subsequently to amyloid fibrils. Oligomers are highly toxic to neurons and have been reported to induce synaptic transmission impairments. The progression from oligomers to fibrils forming senile plaques is currently considered a protective mechanism to avoid the presence of the highly toxic oligomers. Protein nitration is a frequent post-translational modification under AD nitrative stress conditions. Aβ can be nitrated at tyrosine 10 (Y10) by peroxynitrite. Based on our analysis of ThT binding, Western blot and electron and atomic force microscopy, we report that Aβ nitration stabilizes soluble, highly toxic oligomers and impairs the formation of fibrils. We propose a mechanism by which fibril elongation is interrupted upon Y10 nitration: Nitration disrupts fibril-forming folds by preventing H14-mediated bridging, as shown with an Aβ analog containing a single residue (H to E) replacement that mimics the behavior of nitrated Aβ related to fibril formation and neuronal toxicity. The pathophysiological role of our findings in AD was highlighted by the study of these nitrated oligomers on mouse hippocampal neurons, where an increased NMDAR-dependent toxicity of nitrated Aβ oligomers was observed. Our results show that Aβ nitrotyrosination is a post-translational modification that increases Aβ synaptotoxicity.

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.

Ch'ng, Jun-Hong, Moll, Kirsten, Quintana, Maria del Pilar, Chan, Sherwin Chun Leung, Masters, Ellen, Moles, Ernest, Liu, Jianping, Eriksson, Anders B., Wahlgren, Mats, (2016). Rosette-disrupting effect of an anti-plasmodial compound for the potential treatment of plasmodium falciparum malaria complications Scientific Reports 6, 29317

The spread of artemisinin-resistant parasites could lead to higher incidence of patients with malaria complications. However, there are no current treatments that directly dislodge sequestered parasites from the microvasculature. We show that four common antiplasmodial drugs do not disperse rosettes (erythrocyte clusters formed by malaria parasites) and therefore develop a cell-based high-throughput assay to identify potential rosette-disrupting compounds. A pilot screen of 2693 compounds identified Malaria Box compound MMV006764 as a potential candidate. Although it reduced rosetting by a modest 20%, MMV006764 was validated to be similarly effective against both blood group O and A rosettes of three laboratory parasite lines. Coupled with its antiplasmodial activity and drug-likeness, MMV006764 represents the first small-molecule compound that disrupts rosetting and could potentially be used in a resource-limited setting to treat patients deteriorating rapidly from malaria complications. Such dual-action drugs that simultaneously restore microcirculation and reduce parasite load could significantly reduce malaria morbidity and mortality.

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-α-Glc1 units partially sulfated at 2- and 4-positions and branches of Pyr(4,6)α-Gal1→3-α-Fuc2(SO3)1→3-α-Glc4(SO3)1→3-α-Glc→4-linked to the central α-Glc units. Single-molecule force measurements of self-binding forces of this sulfated polysaccharide and their chemically desulfated and carboxyl-reduced derivatives revealed that the sulfate epitopes and extracellular calcium are essential for providing the strength and stability necessary to sustain cell adhesion in sponges. We further discuss these findings within the framework of the role of molecular structures in the early evolution of metazoans.

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 β-strands of polypeptide chains are perpendicular to the fibril axis. Because of the prominence of amyloid deposits in many of these diseases, much effort has gone into elucidating the structural basis of protein aggregation. A number of recent experimental and theoretical studies have significantly increased our understanding of the process. On the one hand, solid-state NMR, X-ray crystallography and single molecule methods have provided us with the first high-resolution 3D structures of amyloids, showing that they exhibit conformational plasticity and are able to adopt different stable tertiary folds, with impact both their transmissibility and neurotoxicity. On the other hand, several computational approaches have identified regions prone to aggregation in disease-linked polypeptides, predicted the differential aggregation propensities of their genetic variants and simulated the early, crucial steps of the oligomerization reaction. This review summarizes these findings and their therapeutic relevance, as by uncovering specific structural or sequential targets they may provide us with a means to tackle the debilitating diseases linked to protein aggregation.

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 Plasmodium 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-β peptide aggregation 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 Plasmodium falciparum parasites 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


  • Zeiss Primostar microscope
  • Shake ‘N’ Stack (Thermo Hybaid) hybridization oven
  • Rotatory evaporator RS 3000-V (Selecta)
  • Plasmodium falciparum cell cultures


  • Prof. Dario Anselmetti
    Universität Bielefeld, Germany
  • Prof. Maria Antònia Busquets
    University of Barcelona, Spain
  • Prof. Elisabetta Ranucci
    Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy
  • Prof. José Manuel Bautista
    Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain
  • Dr. Matthias Rottmann
    Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland
  • Prof. Robert Sinden
    Imperial College London, UK
  • Dr. Israel Molina
    Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron, Barcelona
  • Prof. José Luis Serrano
    Instituto de Nanociencia de Aragón, Zaragoza
  • Prof. Johan Engbersen
    University of Twente, The Netherlands
  • Dr. Santiago Imperial
    University of Barcelona, Spain
  • Dr. Eduardo Prata Vilanova
    Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Dr. Maria Manconi
    Università de Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy
  • Dr. Krijn Paaijmans
    CRESIB, Barcelona, Spain
  • Dr. Ellen Faszewski
    Wheelock College, Boston, USA
  • Prof. Bernard Degnan
    University of Brisbane, Australia
  • Dr. Francisco J. Muñoz
    Parc de Recerca Biomèdica de Barcelona, Spain
  • Dr. Inga Siden-Kiamos
    FORTH Institute of Molecular Biology & Biotechnology, Greece
  • Prof. Salvador Ventura
    Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain
  • Dr. Juan José Valle-Delgado
    Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
  • Prof. Mats Wahlgren
    Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Dr. Fatima Nogueira
    Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical, Lisboa, Portugal
  • Dr. Christian Grandfils
    University of Liège, Belgium