Lipid-based nanoparticles for siRNA delivery in cancer therapy: paradigms and challenges

Acc Chem Res. 2012 Jul 17;45(7):1163-71. doi: 10.1021/ar300048p. Epub 2012 May 8.


RNA interference (RNAi) is a specific gene-silencing mechanism that can be mediated by the delivery of chemical synthesized small-interfering RNA (siRNA). RNAi might constitute a novel therapeutic approach for cancer treatment because researchers can easily design siRNA molecules to inhibit, specifically and potently, the expression of any protein involved in tumor initiation and progression. Despite all the potential of siRNA as a novel class of drugs, the limited cellular uptake, low biological stability, and unfavorable pharmacokinetics of siRNAs have limited their application in the clinic. Indeed, blood nucleases easily degrade naked siRNAs, and the kidneys rapidly eliminate these molecules. Furthermore, at the level of target cells, the negative charge and hydrophilicity of siRNAs strongly impair their cellular internalization. Therefore, the translation of siRNA to the clinical setting is highly dependent on the development of an appropriate delivery system, able to ameliorate siRNA pharmacokinetic and biodistribution properties. In this regard, major advances have been achieved with lipid-based nanocarriers sterically stabilized by poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG), such as the stabilized nucleic acid lipid particles (SNALP). However, PEG has not solved all the major problems associated with siRNA delivery. In this Account, the major problems associated with PEGylated lipid-based nanoparticles, and the different strategies to overcome them are discussed. Although PEG has revolutionized the field of nanocarriers, cumulative experience has revealed that upon repeated administration, PEGylated liposomes lose their ability to circulate over long periods in the bloodstream, a phenomenon known as accelerated blood clearance. In addition, PEGylation impairs the internalization of the siRNA into the target cell and its subsequent escape from the endocytic pathway, which reduces biological activity. An interesting approach to overcome such limitations relies on the design of novel exchangeable PEG-derivatized lipids. After systemic administration, these lipids can be released from the nanoparticle surface. Moreover, the design and synthesis of novel cationic lipids that are more fusogenic and the use of internalizing targeting ligands have contributed to the emergence of novel lipid-based nanoparticles with remarkable transfection efficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lipids / chemistry*
  • Liposomes / chemistry
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / administration & dosage*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / chemistry
  • RNA, Small Interfering / pharmacokinetics
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Transfection


  • Lipids
  • Liposomes
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Polyethylene Glycols