Solvent-driven, self-assembled acid-responsive poly(ketalized serine)/siRNA complexes for RNA interference†
Advances in bionanotechnology aim to develop smart nucleic acid delivery carriers with stimuli-responsive features to overcome challenges such as non-biodegradability, rapid clearance, immune response, and reaching intracellular targets. Peptide-based nanomaterials have become widely used in the field of gene and drug delivery due to their structural versatility and biomimetic properties. Particularly, polypeptide gene vectors that respond to biological stimuli, such as acidic intracellular environments, have promising applications in mediating efficient endosomal escape and drug release. Unfortunately, synthesis strategies for efficient polymerization of acid-labile peptides have been limited due to conditions that fail to preserve acid-degradable functional groups. Stable urethane derivatives of the acid-labile amino acid ketalized serine (kSer) were synthesized and polymerized to a high molecular weight under permissive conditions independent of elevated temperature, restrictive solvents, or an inert atmosphere. A new formulation strategy utilizing solvent-driven self-assembly of poly(kSer) peptides with small interfering RNA (siRNA) was developed, and the resulting poly(kSer)/siRNA complexes were further cross-linked for reinforced stability under physiological conditions. The complexes were highly monodisperse and precisely spherical in morphology, which has significant clinical implications in definitive biodistribution, cellular internalization, and intracellular trafficking patterns. Self-assembled, cross-linked poly(kSer)/siRNA complexes demonstrated efficient nucleic acid encapsulation, internalization, endosomal escape, and acid-triggered cargo release, tackling multiple hurdles in siRNA delivery. The acid-responsive polypeptides and solvent-driven self-assembly strategies demonstrated in this study could be applicable to developing other efficient and safe delivery systems for gene and drug delivery.