Gold nanocarriers for transport of oligonucleotides across brain endothelial cells

Fatima, Nayab; Gromnicova, Radka; Loughlin, Jane; Sharrack, Basil and Male, David (2020). Gold nanocarriers for transport of oligonucleotides across brain endothelial cells. PLOS ONE, 15(9), article no. e0236611.



Treatment of diseases that affect the CNS by gene therapy requires delivery of oligonucleotides to target cells within the brain. As the blood brain barrier prevents movement of large biomolecules, current approaches involve direct injection of the oligonucleotides, which is invasive and may have only a localised effect. The aim of this study was to investigate the potential of 2 nm galactose-coated gold nanoparticles (NP-Gal) as a delivery system of oligonucleotides across brain endothelium.
DNA oligonucleotides of different types were attached to NP-Gal by the place exchange reaction and were characterised by EMSA (electrophoretic mobility shift assay). Several nanoparticle formulations were created, with single- or double-stranded (20nt or 40nt) DNA oligonucleotides, or with different amounts of DNA attached to the carriers. These nanocarriers were applied to transwell cultures of human brain endothelium in vitro (hCMEC/D3 cell-line) or to a 3D-hydrogel model of the blood-brain barrier including astrocytes. Transfer rates were measured by quantitative electron microscopy for the nanoparticles and qPCR for DNA.
Despite the increase in nanoparticle size caused by attachment of oligonucleotides to the NP-Gal carrier, the rates of endocytosis and transcytosis of nanoparticles were both considerably increased when they carried an oligonucleotide cargo. Carriers with 40nt dsDNA were most efficient, accumulating in vesicles, in the cytosol and beneath the basal membrane of the endothelium. The oligonucleotide cargo remained attached to the nanocarriers during transcytosis and the transport rate across the endothelial cells was increased at least 50fold compared with free DNA. The nanoparticles entered the extracellular matrix and were taken up by the astrocytes in biologically functional amounts.
Attachment of DNA confers a strong negative charge to the nanoparticles which may explain the enhanced binding to the endothelium and transcytosis by both vesicular transport and the transmembrane/cytosol pathway. These gold nanoparticles have the potential to transport therapeutic amounts of nucleic acids into the CNS.

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