Membrane lipids destabilize short interfering ribonucleic acid (siRNA)/polyethylenimine nanoparticles†
Cell entry of polymeric nanoparticles (NPs) bearing polynucleotides is an important stage for successful gene delivery. In this work, we addressed the influence of cell membrane lipids on the integrity and configurational changes of NPs composed of short interfering ribonucleic acid (siRNA) and polyethylenimine. We focused on NPs derived from two different PEIs, unmodified low molecular weight PEI and linoleic acid (LA)-substituted PEI, and their interactions with two membrane lipids (zwitterionic 2-oleoyl-1-palmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (POPC) and anionic 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phospho-L-serine (POPS)). Our experiments showed that POPS liposomes interacted strongly with both types of NPs, which caused partial dissociation of the NPs. POPC liposomes, however, did not induce any dissociation. Consistent with the experiments, steered molecular dynamics simulations showed a stronger interaction between the NPs and the POPS membrane than between the NPs and the POPC membrane. Lipid substitution on the PEIs enhanced the stability of the NPs during membrane crossing; lipid association between PEIs of the LA-bearing NPs as well as parallel orientation of the siRNAs provided protection against their dissociation (unlike NPs from native PEI). Our observations provide valuable insight into the integrity and structural changes of PEI/siRNA NPs during membrane crossing which will help in the design of more effective carriers for nucleic acid delivery.