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Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women worldwide and the second most common cancer overall. The development of new therapies to treat this devastating malignancy is needed urgently. Nanoparticles are one class of nanomaterial with multiple applications in medicine, ranging from their use as drug delivery systems and the promotion of changes in cell morphology to the control of gene transcription. Nanoparticles made of the natural polymer chitosan are easy to produce, have a very low immunogenic profile, and diffuse easily into cells. One hallmark feature of cancer, including breast tumours, is the genome instability caused by defects in the spindle-assembly checkpoint (SAC), the molecular signalling mechanism that ensures the timely and high-fidelity transmission of the genetic material to an offspring. In recent years, the use of nanoparticles to treat cancer cells has gained momentum. This is in part because nanoparticles made of different materials can sensitise cancer cells to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These advances prompted us to study the potential sensitising effect of chitosan-based nanoparticles on breast cancer cells treated with reversine, which is a small molecule inhibitor of Mps1 and Aurora B that induces premature exit from mitosis, aneuploidy, and cell death, before and after exposure of the cancer cells to X-ray irradiation. Our measurements of metabolic activity as an indicator of cell viability, DNA damage by alkaline comet assay, and immunofluorescence using anti-P-H3 as a mitotic biomarker indicate that chitosan nanoparticles elicit cellular responses that affect mitosis and cell viability and can sensitise breast cancer cells to X-ray radiation (2Gy). We also show that such a sensitisation effect is not caused by direct damage to the DNA by the nanoparticles. Taken together, our data indicates that chitosan nanoparticles have potential application for the treatment of breast cancer as adjunct to radiotherapy.

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breast cancer, mitosis deregulation, nanoparticles, spindle-assembly checkpoint inhibition, tumour sensitisation