Locally delivered plasmid DNA (pDNA) is currently pursued as gene-based therapy for regenerative medicine, but important information on in situ pDNA pharmacokinetics and transgene expression is lacking in animal models. To investigate pDNA pharmacokinetics in implants, low molecular weight (2 kDa) polyethylenimine (PEI) and linoleic acid substituted 2 kDa PEI (PEI-LA) were used for pDNA delivery in gelatin sponges. An efficient pDNA extraction method combined with quantitative PCR (qPCR) was found to give equivalent quantitation of naked and polymer-bound pDNA, making it suitable to assess pDNA polyplexes in implants. Naked pDNA implanted in a rat subcutaneous model was >98% lost after 24 hours whereas PEI and PEI-LA delivered pDNA remained intact in implants for 2 and 4 weeks, respectively. Using a plasmid expressing DsRed as a reporter gene, mRNA and protein expression was observed only for PEI-LA despite the extended retention and cellular uptake of PEI complexes. The in vivo data were in agreement with in vitro results showing that only PEI-LA was an effective transfection agent even though both PEI and PEI-LA complexes were internalized by the cells. Dose dependence was observed for mRNA expression, with a 20 μg dose giving faster onset and higher expression levels compared to a 5 μg pDNA dose. The mRNA expression after PEI-LA mediated delivery was sustained for at least 4 weeks and a significant correlation between pDNA retention in sponges and mRNA expression was observed. In addition to establishing a promising gene carrier for gene delivery, these studies provided important information about the retention and transgene expression by implanted non-viral carriers.
- This article is part of the themed collection: In celebration of Michael Sefton’s 65th birthday