Escaping the endosome: assessing cellular trafficking mechanisms of non-viral vehicles

J Control Release. 2021 Jul 10;335:465-480. doi: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2021.05.038. Epub 2021 May 30.


Non-viral vehicles hold therapeutic promise in advancing the delivery of a variety of cargos in vitro and in vivo, including small molecule drugs, biologics, and especially nucleic acids. However, their efficacy at the cellular level is limited by several delivery barriers, with endolysosomal degradation being most significant. The entrapment of vehicles and their cargo in the acidified endosome prevents access to the cytosol, nucleus, and other subcellular compartments. Understanding the factors that contribute to uptake and intracellular trafficking, especially endosomal entrapment and release, is key to overcoming delivery obstacles within cells. In this review, we summarize and compare experimental techniques for assessing the extent of endosomal escape of a variety of non-viral vehicles and describe proposed escape mechanisms for different classes of lipid-, polymer-, and peptide-based delivery agents. Based on this evaluation, we present forward-looking strategies utilizing information gained from mechanistic studies to inform the rational design of efficient delivery vehicles.

Keywords: Endosomal escape; Nanoparticle; Non-viral vehicle; Polymeric vehicle.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cytosol
  • Endosomes*
  • Lysosomes
  • Peptides
  • Polymers*


  • Peptides
  • Polymers