Even though abnormal expression of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and of their ligands is observed in many cancer cells of various origins, only a few anti-cancer compounds directly act on their signalling. One promising approach to modulate their activity consists of targeting the receptor cytoplasmic surfaces interacting with the associated G-proteins using peptides mimicking the intracellular loops of the receptor. Thus, to be fully effective, the peptide mimics must be selectively targeted to the tumour while sparing healthy tissues, translocated across the cell membrane and stay anchored to the cytoplasmic leaflet of the plasma membrane. In the present study, we introduce a novel way to selectively target and inhibit the activity of a GPCR in cancer cells under acidic conditions, such as those found in solid tumours. We find that the conjugation of a peptide fragment derived from the third intracellular loop (i3) of the protease-activated receptor 1 (PAR1) to a peptide that can selectively target tumours solely based on their acidity [pH(Low) Insertion Peptide (pHLIP)], produces a construct capable of effectively down-regulating PAR1 activity in a concentration- and pH-dependent manner and of inducing a potent cytotoxic effect in a panel of cancer cells that is proportional to the relative level of receptor expression at the cell surface. This strategy not only allows for a more selective targeting and specific intracellular delivery than current approaches, but also offers new possibilities for developing novel anti-cancer drugs targeting GPCRs.

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