Engineering of Extracellular Vesicles for Small Molecule-Regulated Cargo Loading and Cytoplasmic Delivery of Bioactive Proteins

Mol Pharm. 2022 May 20. doi: 10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.2c00192. Online ahead of print.


Cytoplasmic delivery of functional proteins into target cells remains challenging for many biological agents to exert their therapeutic effects. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are expected to be a promising platform for protein delivery; however, efficient loading of proteins of interest (POIs) into EVs remains elusive. In this study, we utilized small compound-induced heterodimerization between FK506 binding protein (FKBP) and FKBP12-rapamycin-binding (FRB) domain to sort bioactive proteins into EVs using the FRB-FKBP system. When CD81, a typical EV marker protein, and POI were fused with FKBP and FRB, respectively, rapamycin induced the binding of these proteins through the FKBP-FRB interaction and recruited the POIs into EVs. The released EVs, displaying the virus-derived membrane fusion protein, delivered the POI cargo into recipient cells and their functionality in the recipient cells was confirmed. Furthermore, we demonstrated that CD81 could be replaced with other EV-enriched proteins, such as CD63 or HIV Gag. Thus, the FRB-FKBP system enables the delivery of functional proteins and paves the way for EV-based protein delivery platforms.

Keywords: cargo loading; cargo transfer; extracellular vesicles; protein delivery; rapamycin.