PEGylated gene carriers in serum under shear flow†
The behaviour of drug/gene carriers in the blood stream under shear is still a puzzle. In this work, using the complexes formed by 21 bp DNA and poly(ethylene glycol)-b-poly(L-lysine) (PEG–PLL) of varying PEG lengths, we studied the dynamic behaviour of the complexes in the presence of fetal bovine serum (FBS) and under flow at different shear rates, a condition mimicking the internal physical environment of blood vessels. The PEG5k-PLL/DNA complex possesses a dense DNA/PLL core and a loose PEG5k protecting layer. The PEGylated DNA complexes exhibit multiple responses to external shear in the presence of FBS. The loose PEG5k layer is firstly disturbed at a shear rate below 30 s−1. The exposure of the charged core to the environment results in a secondary aggregation of the complex with FBS. The size of the aggregate is limited to a certain range as the shear rate increases to 50 s−1. The dense DNA/PLL core starts to withstand the shear force as the shear rate reaches 500 s−1. The reorganization of the core to accommodate more serum molecules leads to tertiary aggregation of the complexes. If PEG cannot form a valid layer around the complex, as in PEG2k-PLL/DNA, the complex forms an aggregate even without shear, and the first shear dependent region is missing. If the PEG layer is too stable around the complex, as in PEG10k-PLL/DNA, no tertiary aggregation occurs. The mechanism of shear on the behaviour of delivery particles in serum helps to design gene carriers with high efficacy.