AbstractMesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are targeted as vehicles for cell mediated gene therapy. Here we report on a macromolecular carrier, which was designed aiming at successful targeted gene delivery into MSCs through the mediation of folate receptor and reduced cytotoxicity compared to established cationic polymer vector – polyethylenimine with a weight average molecular weight (Mw) of 25,000 Dalton (PEI25K). The carrier PHPA-PEI1800-FA was synthesized in a two-step procedure. PHPA-PEI1800 was prepared by grafting polyethylenimine with a Mw of 1800 Dalton (PEI1800) onto the α,β-poly(N-3-hydroxypropyl)-D,L-aspartamide (PHPA) backbone. PHPA-PEI1800-FA was obtained by chemically conjugating folic acid onto PHPA-PEI1800. The grafting degree of PEI1800 was 3.9±0.2% in relation to the CH groups of PHPA and the molar ratio of folic acid conjugated to PEI1800 (χFA) was 1.8±0.1 as calculated by NMR spectroscopy. The copolymers were biodegradable and exhibited lower cytotoxicity than PEI25K. Compared to PHPA-PEI1800, PHPA-PEI1800-FA led to a significantly higher transfection efficiency in human MSCs, which could be attributed to the mediation of folate receptor during the transfection process as confirmed by folic acid competition assay. Both marker gene (GFP) and therapeutic gene (VEGF) were delivered into human MSCs from multi-donors using PHPA-PEI1800-FA. The percentage of GFP+ MSCs showed an average value of 2.85±1.60% but a large variation for different samples. The VEGF expression level of the PHPA-PEI1800-FA transfected cells was significantly higher than that of either untransfected or naked DNA transfected cells. Conclusively, PHPA-PEI1800-FA is a suitable vector to deliver genes into human MSCs through the interaction with folate receptor.