Mitochondrial redox homeostasis, the balance between reactive oxygen species and antioxidants such as glutathione, plays critical roles in many biological processes, including biosynthesis and apoptosis, and thus is a potential target for cancer treatment. Here, we report a mitochondrial oxidative stress amplifier, MitoCAT-g, which consists of carbon-dot-supported atomically dispersed gold (CAT-g) with further surface modifications of triphenylphosphine and cinnamaldehyde. We find that the MitoCAT-g particles specifically target mitochondria and deplete mitochondrial glutathione with atomic economy, thus amplifying the reactive oxygen species damage caused by cinnamaldehyde and finally leading to apoptosis in cancer cells. We show that imaging-guided interventional injection of these particles potently inhibits tumour growth in subcutaneous and orthotopic patient-derived xenograft hepatocellular carcinoma models without adverse effects. Our study demonstrates that MitoCAT-g amplifies the oxidative stress in mitochondria and suppresses tumour growth in vivo, representing a promising agent for anticancer applications.

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All relevant data during the study are available from the corresponding authors upon request.

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Journal peer review information Nature Nanotechnology thanks Jose Fernandez-Checa, Chun Li and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) (grants nos. 21327806, 21621003, 21235004, 31630027, 31430031, 31600808 and 31225009), the NSFC-German Research Foundation (DFG) project 31761133013 and the ‘Strategic Priority Research Program’ from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA09030301). The authors acknowledge support from the BL14W1 station of the Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

Author information


  1. Laboratory of Controllable Nanopharmaceuticals, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Center for Excellence in Nanoscience and CAS Key Laboratory for Biomedical Effects of Nanomaterials and Nanosafety, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, Beijing, China

    • Ningqiang Gong
    • , Xiaowei Ma
    • , Xiaoxia Ye
    • , Xiaoai Chen
    • , Shuaidong Huo
    • , Tingbin Zhang
    • , Shizhu Chen
    • , Xixue Hu
    • , Yaling Gan
    •  & Xing-Jie Liang
  2. Department of Chemistry, Key Laboratory of Bioorganic Phosphorus Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

    • Ningqiang Gong
    • , Xucong Teng
    •  & Jinghong Li
  3. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

    • Ningqiang Gong
    •  & Xing-Jie Liang
  4. Department of Interventional Ultrasound, Chinese PLA General Hospital, Beijing, China

    • Qunfang Zhou
    •  & Jie Yu
  5. School of Environment and Chemical Engineering, North China Electric Power University, Beijing, China

    • Xiaoli Tan
  6. School of Physical Science and Technology, Shanghai Tech University, Shanghai, China

    • Shengkun Yao
    •  & Huaidong Jiang
  7. Key Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Diagnosis of the Ministry of Education, Hebei University, Baoding, China

    • Shizhu Chen


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N.G., J.L. and X.-J.L. conceived and designed the experiments. N.G., X.M., X.Y., Q.Z., S.H., T.Z. and S.C. performed the experiments. N.G., X.Y., X.C., X.Tan, S.Y., T.Z., J.Y., H.J., J.L. and X.-J.L. analysed the results. N.G., X.Teng, X.H., Y.G., J.L. and X.-J.L. wrote the manuscript. J.L. and X.-J.L. supervised the entire project.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jinghong Li or Xing-Jie Liang.

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