Elucidating the role of surface chemistry on cationic phosphorus dendrimer–siRNA complexation†
In the field of dendrimers targeting small interfering RNA (siRNA) delivery, dendrimer structural properties, such as the flexibility/rigidity ratio, play a crucial role in the efficiency of complexation. However, advances in organic chemistry have enabled the development of dendrimers that differ only by a single atom on their surface terminals. This is the case for cationic phosphorus dendrimers functionalized with either pyrrolidinium (DP) or morpholinium (DM) terminal groups. This small change was shown to strongly affect the dendrimer–siRNA complexation, leading to more efficient anti-inflammatory effects in the case of DP. Reasons for this different behavior can hardly be inferred only by biological in vitro and in vivo experiments due to the high number of variables and complexity of the investigated biological system. However, an understanding of how small chemical surface changes may completely modify the overall dendrimer–siRNA complexation is a significant breakthrough towards the design of efficient dendrimers for nucleic acid delivery. Herein, we present experimental and computational approaches based on isothermal titration calorimetry and molecular dynamics simulations to elucidate the molecular reasons behind different efficiencies and activities of DP and DM. Results of the present research highlight how chemical surface modifications may drive the overall dendrimer–siRNA affinity by influencing enthalpic and entropic contributions of binding free energy. Moreover, this study elucidates molecular reasons related to complexation stoichiometry that may be crucial in determining the dendrimer complexation efficiency.