Heparosan-coated liposomes for drug delivery

Glycobiology. 2017 Nov 1;27(11):1062-1074. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwx070.


Liposomal encapsulation is a useful drug delivery strategy for small molecules, especially chemotherapeutic agents such as doxorubicin. Doxil® is a doxorubicin-containing liposome ("dox-liposome") that passively targets drug to tumors while reducing side effects caused by free drug permeating and poisoning healthy tissues. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is the hydrophilic coating of Doxil® that protects the formulation from triggering the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS). Evading the MPS prolongs dox-liposome circulation time thus increasing drug deposition at the tumor site. However, multiple doses of Doxil® sometimes activate an anti-PEG immune response that enhances liposome clearance from circulation and causes hypersensitivity, further limiting its effectiveness against disease. These side effects constrain the utility of PEG-coated liposomes in certain populations, justifying the need for investigation into alternative coatings that could improve drug delivery for better patient quality of life and outcome. We hypothesized that heparosan (HEP; [-4-GlcA-β1-4-GlcNAc-α1-]n) may serve as a PEG alternative for coating liposomes. HEP is a natural precursor to heparin biosynthesis in mammals. Also, bacteria expressing an HEP extracellular capsule during infection escape detection and are recognized as "self," not a foreign threat. By analogy, coating drug-carrying liposomes with HEP should camouflage the delivery vehicle from the MPS, extending circulation time and potentially avoiding immune-mediated clearance. In this study, we characterize the postmodification insertion of HEP-lipids into liposomes by dynamic light scattering and coarse-grain computer modeling, test HEP-lipid immunogenicity in rats, and compare the efficacy of drug delivered by HEP-coated liposomes to PEG-coated liposomes in a human breast cancer xenograft mouse model.

Keywords: cancer; chemoenzymatic synthesis; doxorubicin; glycosaminoglycans; polyethylene glycol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / administration & dosage
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacokinetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disaccharides / adverse effects
  • Disaccharides / chemistry*
  • Doxorubicin / administration & dosage
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacokinetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liposomes / adverse effects
  • Liposomes / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Disaccharides
  • Liposomes
  • heparosan
  • Doxorubicin