Recent Advances in the Noninvasive Delivery of mRNA

Acc Chem Res. 2021 Dec 7;54(23):4262-4271. doi: 10.1021/acs.accounts.1c00493. Epub 2021 Nov 10.


Over the past two decades, research on mRNA-based therapies has exploded, mainly because of the inherent advantages of mRNA, including a low integration probability, transient expression, and simple and rapid in vitro transcription production approaches. In addition, thanks to improved stability and reduced immunogenicity by advanced strategies, the application of mRNA has expanded from protein replacement therapy to vaccination, gene editing and other fields, showing great promise for clinical application. Recently, with the successive launch of two mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, mRNA technology has attracted an enormous amount of attention from scientific researchers as well as pharmaceutical companies. Because of the large molecular weight, hydrophilicity, and highly negative charge densities of mRNA, it is difficult to overcome the intracellular delivery barriers. Therefore, various delivery vehicles have been developed to achieve more effective mRNA delivery. In general, conventional mRNA administration methods are based on injection strategies, including intravenous, intramuscular, intradermal, and subcutaneous injections. Although these routes circumvent the absorption barriers to some extent, they bring about injection-related concerns such as safety issues, pain, low compliance, and difficulty in repeated dosing, increasing the need to explore alternative strategies for noninvasive delivery. The ideal noninvasive delivery systems are featured with easy to use, low risks of infection, and good patient compliance. At the same time, they allow patients to self-administer, reducing reliance on professional healthcare workers and interference with bodily functions and daily life. In particular, the noninvasive mucosal delivery of mRNA vaccines can induce mucosal immune responses, which are important for resisting pathogens infected through mucosal routes.Because of the potential clinical benefits mentioned above, we detailed the existing strategies for the noninvasive delivery of mRNA in this review, including delivery via the nasal, pulmonary, vaginal, and transdermal routes. First, we discussed the unique strengths and biological hindrances of each route on the basis of physiology. Next, we comprehensively summarized the research progress reported so far and analyzed the technologies and delivery vehicles used, hoping to provide some references for further explorations. Among these noninvasive routes, nasal and pulmonary delivery are the earliest and most intensively studied areas, mostly owing to their favorable physiological structures: the nasal or pulmonary mucosa is easily accessible, highly permeable and highly vascularized. In contrast, the development of vaginal mRNA delivery is relatively less reported, and the current research mainly focused on some local applications. In addition, microneedles have also been investigated to overcome skin barriers for mRNA delivery in recent years, making microneedle-based delivery an emerging alternative pathway. In summary, a variety of mRNA formulations and delivery strategies have been developed for noninvasive mRNA delivery, skillfully combining appropriate vehicles or physical technologies to enhance effectiveness. We surmise that continuous advances and technological innovations in the development of mRNA noninvasive delivery will accelerate the translation from experimental research to clinical application.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Animals
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • mRNA Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • mRNA Vaccines / chemistry*
  • mRNA Vaccines / immunology


  • mRNA Vaccines