Comparison of Modular PEG Incorporation Strategies for Stabilization of Peptide–siRNA Nanocomplexes

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Bioconjugate Chemistry, Volume 27, Issue 10, p.2323-2331 (2016)



Nanoparticulate systems have shown great promise in overcoming the considerable trafficking barriers associated with systemic nucleic acid delivery, which must be addressed to unlock the full potential of technologies such as RNAi and gene editing in vivo. In addition to mediating the cytoplasmic delivery of nucleic cargo and shielding it from nuclease degradation and immunostimulation, nucleic-acid-containing nanomaterials delivered intravenously must also be stable in the bloodstream after administration to avoid toxicity and off-target delivery. To this end, the hydrophilic molecule polyethylene glycol (PEG) has been deployed in many different nanoparticle systems to prevent aggregation and recognition by the reticuloendothelial system. However, the optimal strategy for incorporating PEG into self-assembled nucleic acid delivery systems to obtain nanoparticle stability while retaining important functions such as receptor targeting and cargo activity remains unclear. In this work, we develop substantially improved formulations of tumor-penetrating nanocomplexes (TPNs), targeted self-assembled nanoparticles formulated with peptide carriers and siRNA that have been shown to mitigate tumor burden in an orthotopic model of ovarian cancer. We specifically sought to tailor TPNs for intravenous delivery by systematically comparing formulations with three different classes of modular PEG incorporation (namely PEG graft polymers, PEG lipids, and PEGylated peptide), each synthesized using straightforward bioconjugation techniques. We found that the addition of PEG lipids or PEGylated peptide carriers led to the formation of small and stable nanoparticles, but only nanoparticles formulated with PEGylated peptide carriers retained substantial activity in a gene silencing assay. In vivo, this formulation significantly decreased accumulation in off-target organs and improved initial availability in circulation compared to results from the original non-PEGylated particles. Thus, from among a set of candidate strategies, we identified TPNs with admixed PEGylated peptide carriers as the optimal formulation for systemic administration of siRNA on the basis of their performance in a battery of physicochemical and biological assays. Moreover, this optimized formulation confers pharmacologic advantages that may enable further translational development of tumor-penetrating nanocomplexes, highlighting the preclinical value of comparing formulation strategies and the relevance of this systematic approach for the development of other self-assembled nanomaterials.