Background: We have studied the effects of the poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) chain length and acyl chain composition on the pH-sensitivity of acid-labile PEG-diorthoester (POD) lipids. The optimal conditions are described for preparation of DNA plasmid encapsulated POD nanolipoparticles (NLPs) which mediate high gene delivery activity in vitro with moderate cytotoxicity.
Methods and results: A series of POD lipids with various PEG chain lengths (750, 2000, and 5000 Da) or acyl chains (distearoyl 18:0 or dioleoyl 18:1) were incorporated into DNA containing NLPs or model liposomes as a stealth and bioresponsive component. We investigated the collapse kinetics of the POD-stabilized liposomes when the PEG chain length was changed. We optimized a detergent dialysis method to encapsulate plasmid DNA into NLPs prepared from a mixture of the various POD lipids, cationic lipid and phosphatidylethanolamine lipid. A critical concentration (28 mM) of n-octyl-beta-D-glucopyranoside (OG) enabled high encapsulation of DNA plasmid into 100 nm particles with a neutral surface charge. The POD NLPs are stable at pH 8.5 but rapidly collapse (approximately 10 min) into aggregates at pH 5.0. In the detergent solution there is a metastable DNA-lipid intermediate that evolves into a stable NLP if the detergent is removed shortly after adding DNA to the lipid-detergent mixture. The rank order of transfection activity from NLPs containing PEG-lipid was POD 750 > POD 5000 = POD 2000 > non-pH-sensitive PEG-lipid. The particle size stability was in the reverse order. Binding of the NLPs to cells reached a maximum level by 12 hours. The POD NLPs had slightly less transfection activity but considerably lower cytotoxicity than the PEI-DNA polyplex.
Conclusions: Of the PEG-orthoester lipids tested, POD 2000 is the better choice for the preparation of sterically stabilized NLPs with a small particle diameter, good stability, low cytotoxicity, and satisfactory transfection activity.