Preparation of neutrally-charged, pH-responsive polymeric nanoparticles for cytosolic siRNA delivery

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The success of siRNA as a targeted molecular medicine is dependent upon its efficient cytosolic delivery to cells within the tissue of pathology. Clinical success for treating previously ‘undruggable’ hepatic disease targets with siRNA has been achieved. However, efficient tumor siRNA delivery necessitates additional pharmacokinetic design considerations, including long circulation time, evasion of clearance organs (e.g., liver and kidneys), and tumor penetration and retention. Here, we describe the preparation and in vitro physicochemical/biological characterization of polymeric nanoparticles designed for efficient siRNA delivery, particularly to non-hepatic tissues such as tumors. The siRNA nanoparticles are prepared by electrostatic complexation of siRNA and the diblock copolymer poly(ethylene glycol-b-[2-(dimethylamino)ethyl methacrylate-co-butyl methacrylate]) (PEG-DB) to form polyion complexes (polyplexes) where siRNA is sequestered within the polyplex core and PEG forms a hydrophilic, neutrally-charged corona. Moreover, the DB block becomes membrane-lytic as vesicles of the endolysosomal pathway acidify (< pH 6.8), triggering endosomal escape and cytosolic delivery of siRNA. Methods to characterize the physicochemical characteristics of siRNA nanoparticles such as size, surface charge, particle morphology, and siRNA loading are described. Bioactivity of siRNA nanoparticles is measured using luciferase as a model gene in a rapid and high-throughput gene silencing assay. Designs which pass these initial tests (such as PEG-DB-based polyplexes) are considered appropriate for translation to preclinical animal studies assessing the delivery of siRNA to tumors or other sites of pathology.