Peptide Spiders: Peptide–Polymer Conjugates to Traffic Nucleic AcidsPeptide Spiders: PeptidePolymer Conjugates to Traffic Nucleic Acids

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Molecular Pharmaceutics (2020)



Therapeutic nucleic acids hold great promise for the treatment of genetic diseases, yet the delivery of this highly charged macromolecular drug remains a challenge in the field. Peptides are promising agents to mediate nucleic acid delivery because they can encode a biological function to overcome the trafficking barriers. Electrostatic nanocomplexes of nucleic acid and peptides can achieve effective delivery, but the balance between their stability and biological function must be finely tuned. In this work, we explore two peptide building blocks that have been studied in the literature: targeting ligands and intracellular trafficking peptides. We grafted these peptides on a polyethylene glycol (PEG) backbone with eight sites for substitution to create so-called “peptide spiders”. These conjugates achieve stability via the well-known hydrophilic shielding effect of PEG. In addition, the coordination of peptide building blocks into multimers may create new biological properties, such as the well-known phenomena of increased binding avidity with multivalent ligands. In this work, we linked two trafficking peptides to the PEG backbone using either nonreducible or reducible chemistries and investigated the ability of these materials to carry silencing RNAs into mammalian cells. We then investigated these nanomaterials for their pharmacokinetic properties and silencing of undruggable targets in a mouse model of cancer. While reducible linkages were more potent at silencing in vitro, this effect was reversed when applied in the context of living animals. This work offers an insight into peptide-based delivery materials and investigates peptide–polymer linkages.