Non-viral strategies for delivering genome editing enzymes

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2021 Jan;168:99-117. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2020.09.004. Epub 2020 Sep 12.


Genome-editing tools such as Cre recombinase (Cre), zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and most recently the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-associated protein system have revolutionized biomedical research, agriculture, microbial engineering, and therapeutic development. Direct delivery of genome editing enzymes, as opposed to their corresponding DNA and mRNA precursors, is advantageous since they do not require transcription and/or translation. In addition, prolonged overexpression is a problem when delivering viral vector or plasmid DNA which is bypassed when delivering whole proteins. This lowers the risk of insertional mutagenesis and makes for relatively easier manufacturing. However, a major limitation of utilizing genome editing proteins in vivo is their low delivery efficiency, and currently the most successful strategy involves using potentially immunogenic viral vectors. This lack of safe and effective non-viral delivery systems is still a big hurdle for the clinical translation of such enzymes. This review discusses the challenges of non-viral delivery strategies of widely used genome editing enzymes, including Cre recombinase, ZFNs and TALENs, CRISPR/Cas9, and Cas12a (Cpf1) in their protein format and highlights recent innovations of non-viral delivery strategies which have the potential to overcome current delivery limitations and advance the clinical translation of genome editing.

Keywords: CRISPR/Cas9; Genome editing; Nanoparticles; Non-viral; Protein delivery.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / administration & dosage
  • CRISPR-Associated Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats
  • Dendrimers / chemistry
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases / administration & dosage
  • Gene Editing / methods*
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • Genetic Vectors / administration & dosage*
  • Gold / chemistry
  • Integrases / administration & dosage
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Phosphorus / chemistry
  • Polyethyleneimine / chemistry
  • Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases / administration & dosage
  • Zinc Finger Nucleases / administration & dosage


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • CRISPR-Associated Proteins
  • Dendrimers
  • Lipids
  • Phosphorus
  • Gold
  • Polyethyleneimine
  • Cre recombinase
  • Integrases
  • Cas12a protein
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases
  • Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases
  • Zinc Finger Nucleases