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Honokiol (HK) is a natural bioactive compound with proven antineoplastic properties against melanoma. However, it shows very low bioavailability when administered orally. Alternatively, topical administration may offer a promising route. The objective of the current study was to fabricate HK transfersomes (HKTs) for topical treatment of melanoma. As an ultradeformable carrier system, transfersomes can overcome the physiological barriers to topical treatment of melanoma: the stratum corneum and the anomalous tumor microenvironment. Moreover, the immunomodulatory and stemness-regulation roles of HKTs were the main interest of this study.


TFs were prepared using the modified scalable heating method. A three-factor, three-level Box–Behnken design was utilized for the optimization of the process and formulation variables. Intracellular uptake and cytotoxicity of HKTs were evaluated in nonactivated and stromal cell–activated B16F10 melanoma cells to investigate the influence of the complex tumor microenvironment on the efficacy of HK. Finally, ELISA and Western blot were performed to evaluate the expression levels of TGF-β and clusters of differentiation (CD47 and CD133, respectively).


The optimized formula exhibited a mean size of 190 nm, highly negative surface charge, high entrapment efficiency, and sustained release profile. HKTs showed potential to alleviate the immunosuppressive characteristics of B16F10 melanoma in vitro via downregulation of TGF-β signaling. In addition, HKTs reduced expression of the “do not eat me” signal — CD47. Moreover, HKTs possessed additional interesting potential to reduce the expression of the stem-like cell marker CD133. These outcomes were boosted upon combination with metformin, an antihyperglycemic drug recently reported to possess different functions in cancer, while combination with collagenase, an extracellular matrix–depleting enzyme, produced detrimental effects.


HKTs represent a promising scalable formulation for treatment of the aggressive B16F10 melanoma, which is jam-packed with immunosuppressive and stem-like cell markers.


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