The Recognition of and Reactions to Nucleic Acid Nanoparticles by Human Immune Cells

Molecules. 2021 Jul 12;26(14):4231. doi: 10.3390/molecules26144231.


The relatively straightforward methods of designing and assembling various functional nucleic acids into nanoparticles offer advantages for applications in diverse diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. However, due to the novelty of this approach, nucleic acid nanoparticles (NANPs) are not yet used in the clinic. The immune recognition of NANPs is among the areas of preclinical investigation aimed at enabling the translation of these novel materials into clinical settings. NANPs' interactions with the complement system, coagulation systems, and immune cells are essential components of their preclinical safety portfolio. It has been established that NANPs' physicochemical properties-composition, shape, and size-determine their interactions with immune cells (primarily blood plasmacytoid dendritic cells and monocytes), enable recognition by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) such as Toll-like receptors (TLRs) and RIG-I-like receptors (RLRs), and mediate the subsequent cytokine response. However, unlike traditional therapeutic nucleic acids (e.g., CpG oligonucleotides), NANPs do not trigger a cytokine response unless they are delivered into the cells using a carrier. Recently, it was discovered that the type of carrier provides an additional tool for regulating both the spectrum and the magnitude of the cytokine response to NANPs. Herein, we review the current knowledge of NANPs' interactions with various components of the immune system to emphasize the unique properties of these nanomaterials and highlight opportunities for their use in vaccines and immunotherapy.

Keywords: Toll-like receptors; complement activation-related pseudoallergy; cytokine storm syndrome; immunoreaction; immunorecognition; nucleic acid nanoparticles (NANPs).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Nanoparticles / administration & dosage*
  • Nanostructures / administration & dosage
  • Nucleic Acids / immunology*


  • Cytokines
  • Nucleic Acids