Distinguishing cancer cells from normal cells through surface receptors is vital for cancer diagnosis and targeted therapy. Metabolic glycoengineering of unnatural sugars provides a powerful tool to manually introduce chemical receptors onto the cell surface; however, cancer-selective labeling still remains a great challenge. Herein we report the design of sugars that can selectively label cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo. Specifically, we inhibit the cell-labeling activity of tetraacetyl-N-azidoacetylmannosamine (Ac4 ManAz) by converting its anomeric acetyl group to a caged ether bond that can be selectively cleaved by cancer-overexpressed enzymes and thus enables the overexpression of azido groups on the surface of cancer cells. Histone deacetylase and cathepsin L-responsive acetylated azidomannosamine, one such enzymatically activatable Ac4 ManAz analog developed, mediated cancer-selective labeling in vivo, which enhanced tumor accumulation of a dibenzocyclooctyne-doxorubicin conjugate via click chemistry and enabled targeted therapy against LS174T colon cancer, MDA-MB-231 triple-negative breast cancer and 4T1 metastatic breast cancer in mice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-424
Number of pages10
JournalNature chemical biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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