Protamine-Based Strategies for RNA Transfection

Pharmaceutics. 2021 Jun 14;13(6):877. doi: 10.3390/pharmaceutics13060877.


Protamine is a natural cationic peptide mixture mostly known as a drug for the neutralization of heparin and as a compound in formulations of slow-release insulin. Protamine is also used for cellular delivery of nucleic acids due to opposite charge-driven coupling. This year marks 60 years since the first use of Protamine as a transfection enhancement agent. Since then, Protamine has been broadly used as a stabilization agent for RNA delivery. It has also been involved in several compositions for RNA-based vaccinations in clinical development. Protamine stabilization of RNA shows double functionality: it not only protects RNA from degradation within biological systems, but also enhances penetration into cells. A Protamine-based RNA delivery system is a flexible and versatile platform that can be adjusted according to therapeutic goals: fused with targeting antibodies for precise delivery, digested into a cell penetrating peptide for better transfection efficiency or not-covalently mixed with functional polymers. This manuscript gives an overview of the strategies employed in protamine-based RNA delivery, including the optimization of the nucleic acid's stability and translational efficiency, as well as the regulation of its immunostimulatory properties from early studies to recent developments.

Keywords: RNA; cancer therapy; protamine; transfection; vaccines.

Publication types

  • Review