Coating nanocarriers with hyaluronic acid facilitates intravitreal drug delivery for retinal gene therapy

T.F. Martens, K. Remaut, H. Deschout, Johannes F.J. Engbersen, W.E. Hennink, M.J. van Steenbergen, J. Demeester, S.C. de Smedt, K. Braeckmans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


Retinal gene therapy could potentially affect the lives of millions of people suffering from blinding disorders. Yet, one of the major hurdles remains the delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids to the retinal target cells. Due to the different barriers that need to be overcome in case of topical or systemic administration, intravitreal injection is an attractive alternative administration route for large macromolecular therapeutics. Here it is essential that the therapeutics do not aggregate and remain mobile in the vitreous humor in order to reach the retina. In this study, we have evaluated the use of hyaluronic acid (HA) as an electrostatic coating for nonviral polymeric gene nanomedicines, p(CBA-ABOL)/pDNA complexes, to provide them with an anionic hydrophilic surface for improved intravitreal mobility. Uncoated polyplexes had a Z-averaged diameter of 108 nm and a zeta potential of + 29 mV. We evaluated polyplexes coated with HA of different molecular weights (22 kDa, 137 kDa and 2700 kDa) in terms of size, surface charge and complexation efficiency and noticed their zeta potentials became anionic at 4-fold molar excess of HA-monomers compared to cationic monomers, resulting in submicron ternary polyplexes. Next, we used a previously optimized ex vivo model based on excised bovine eyes and fluorescence single particle tracking (fSPT) microscopy to evaluate mobility in intact vitreous humor. It was confirmed that HA-coated polyplexes had good mobility in bovine vitreous humor, similar to polyplexes functionalized with polyethylene glycol (PEG), except for those coated with high molecular weight HA (2700 kDa). However, contrary to PEGylated polyplexes, HA-coated polyplexes were efficiently taken up in vitro in ARPE-19 cells, despite their negative charge, indicating uptake via CD44-receptor mediated endocytosis. Furthermore, the HA-polyplexes were able to induce GFP expression in this in vitro cell line without apparent cytotoxicity, where coating with low molecular weight HA (22 kDa) was shown to induce the highest expression. Taken together our experiments show that HA-coating of nonviral gene complexes is an interesting approach towards retinal gene therapy by intravitreal administration. To our knowledge, this is the first time electrostatic HA-coating of polyplexes with different molecular weights has been evaluated in terms of their suitability for intravitreal delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids towards the retina
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-92
JournalJournal of controlled release
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • METIS-315341
  • IR-99661


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