Amine-reactive pyridylhydrazone-based PEG reagents for pH-reversible PEI polyplex shielding

PEGylation which is reversed after the therapeutic agent reaches the target cell presents an attractive feature for drug, protein or nucleic acid delivery. Amine-reactive, endosomal pH cleavable polyethylene glycol aldehyde-carboxypyr-idylhydrazone, N-hydroxysuccinimide esters (PEG-HZN-NHS) were synthesized and applied for bioreversible surface shielding of DNA polyplexes. Monofunctional mPEG-HZN-NHS was synthesized by reacting succinimidyl hydraziniumnicotinate with mPEG-butyraldehyde (20kDa). Bifunctional OPSS-PEG-HZNNHS was synthesized analogously via a w-2-pyridyldithio-PEG (10kDa) propionaldehyde intermediate. Polyethylenimine (PEI) polyplexes were reacted with the pH-sensitive (mPEGHZN-NHS) or the corresponding stable (mPEGNHS) reagent. Both types of polyplexes remained shielded at pH 7.4 as demonstrated by particle size and zeta potential measurements after 4h of incubation at 37’C. Polyplex deshielding at endosomal pH 5 was observed only with the mPEG-HZN-NHS shielded particles. This was confirmed by fluorescence correlation spectroscopy using the analogous Alexa-488 fluorescently labeled bifunctional PEGylation reagents. Luciferase gene transfections with epidermal growth factor (EGF) containing polyplexes using EGF-receptor overexpressing hepatorna HUH7 cells showed an up to 16-fold enhancement in gene expression with the reversibly shielded polyplexes as compared to stably shielded polyplexes. Consistently, the reversibly shielded polyplexes mediated also an enhanced tumor specific in vivo transgene expression after intravenous administration in a subcutaneous HUH7 tumor model in SCID mice.

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