Conjugation of a peptide autoantigen to gold nanoparticles for intradermally administered antigen specific immunotherapy

Int J Pharm. 2019 May 1:562:303-312. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2019.03.041. Epub 2019 Mar 22.


Antigen specific immunotherapy aims to tolerise patients to specific autoantigens that are responsible for the pathology of an autoimmune disease. Immune tolerance is generated in conditions where the immune response is suppressed and thus gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) are an attractive drug delivery platform due to their anti-inflammatory effects and their potential to facilitate temporal and spatial delivery of a peptide autoantigen in conjunction with pro-tolerogenic elements. In this study we have covalently attached an autoantigen, currently under clinical evaluation for the treatment of type 1 diabetes (PIC19-A3 peptide), to AuNPs to create nanoscale (<5 nm), negatively charged (-40 to -60 mV) AuNP-peptide complexes for immunotherapy. We also employ a clinically approved microneedle delivery system, MicronJet600, to facilitate minimally-invasive intradermal delivery of the nanoparticle constructs to target skin-resident antigen presenting cells, which are known to be apposite target cells for immunotherapy. The AuNP-peptide complexes remain physically stable upon extrusion through microneedles and when delivered into ex vivo human skin they are able to diffuse rapidly and widely throughout the dermis (their site of deposition) and, perhaps more surprisingly, the overlying epidermal layer. Intracellular uptake was extensive, with Langerhans cells proving to be the most efficient cells at internalising the AuNP-peptide complex (94% of the local population within the treated region of skin). In vitro studies showed that uptake of the AuNP-peptide complexes by dendritic cells reduced the capacity of these cells to activate naïve T cells. This indicator of biological functionality encourages further development of the AuNP-peptide formulation, which is now being evaluated in clinical trials.

Keywords: Antigen specific immunotherapy; Diabetes; Gold nanoparticles; Microneedles; Peptide.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autoantigens / administration & dosage*
  • Biological Transport
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendritic Cells / drug effects
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Female
  • Gold / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Injections, Intradermal
  • Metal Nanoparticles / administration & dosage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Peptides / administration & dosage*
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Autoantigens
  • Peptides
  • Gold