Engineering biodegradable micelles of polyethylenimine-based amphiphilic block copolymers for efficient DNA and siRNA delivery


Polycationic micelles have shown advantageous properties as nucleic acid delivery vectors both in vitro and in vivo. In contrast to polycationic micelles reported so far, we designed particles integrating a sufficient nucleic acid condensation capability by polycationic polyethylenimine (PEI) segments as well as only a mild cytotoxic behavior. The micelles composed of a hydrophobic oligoester core with glycolide units resulting in fast degradation after cellular internalization in combination with PEG moieties acting as shielding agents. By grafting branched 25 kDa polyethylenimine (PEI25) and poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) on poly[(ε-caprolactone)-co-glycolide] (CG), amphiphilic PEI-CG-PEI and PEG-CG block copolymers were used to form a series of micelles via self-assembly of PEI-CG-PEI or co-assembly of both copolymers for DNA and siRNA delivery. This modular system enabled a systematic investigation of different parameters and their synergetic effects as different functions were introduced. The polyplex formation and serum stability, cytotoxicity, and transfection activity could be tailored by changing the CG chain length in PEI-based copolymer, incorporating PEG-CG, and varying the N/P ratio. All micelle-based polyplex compositions showed high DNA transfection activity according to reporter gene-expression and an exceptionally high knockdown in siRNA delivery experiments. Remarkably, the GFP expression of > 99% cells was successfully knocked down by micelle-mediated siRNA interference, resulting in a decrease of two orders of magnitude in fluorescence intensity. Incorporation of PEG-CG in the micelles reduced the PEI-related cytotoxicity, and markedly enhanced the serum stability of both DNA and siRNA polyplexes. Compared with homo-PEI25, these micelles showed several advantages including the lower toxicity, higher siRNA transfection efficiency and higher polyplex stability in the presence of serum. This study therefore provides an effective approach to tune the structure, property and function of polycationic micelles for efficient DNA and siRNA delivery, which could contribute to the design and development of novel non-viral transfection vectors with superb functionality.
QR Code: Link to publication