Targeted delivery of therapeutic agents to the heart

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2021 Jun;18(6):389-399. doi: 10.1038/s41569-020-00499-9. Epub 2021 Jan 26.


For therapeutic materials to be successfully delivered to the heart, several barriers need to be overcome, including the anatomical challenges of access, the mechanical force of the blood flow, the endothelial barrier, the cellular barrier and the immune response. Various vectors and delivery methods have been proposed to improve the cardiac-specific uptake of materials to modify gene expression. Viral and non-viral vectors are widely used to deliver genetic materials, but each has its respective advantages and shortcomings. Adeno-associated viruses have emerged as one of the best tools for heart-targeted gene delivery. In addition, extracellular vesicles, including exosomes, which are secreted by most cell types, have gained popularity for drug delivery to several organs, including the heart. Accumulating evidence suggests that extracellular vesicles can carry and transfer functional proteins and genetic materials into target cells and might be an attractive option for heart-targeted delivery. Extracellular vesicles or artificial carriers of non-viral and viral vectors can be bioengineered with immune-evasive and cardiotropic properties. In this Review, we discuss the latest strategies for targeting and delivering therapeutic materials to the heart and how the knowledge of different vectors and delivery methods could successfully translate cardiac gene therapy into the clinical setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Genetic Vectors / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Myocardium / metabolism*