Physicochemical Targeting of Lipid Nanoparticles to the Lungs Induces Clotting: Mechanisms and Solutions

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Jul 25:2023.07.21.550080. doi: 10.1101/2023.07.21.550080.


Lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) have become the dominant drug delivery technology in industry, holding the promise to deliver RNA to up- or down-regulate any protein of interest. LNPs have been targeted to specific cell types or organs by physicochemical targeting, in which LNP's lipid compositions are adjusted to find mixtures with the desired tropism. In a popular approach, physicochemical targeting is accomplished by formulating with charged lipids. Negatively charged lipids localize LNPs to the spleen, and positively charged lipids to the lungs. Here we found that lung-tropic LNPs employing cationic lipids induce massive thrombosis. We demonstrate that thrombosis is induced in the lungs and other organs, and greatly exacerbated by pre-existing inflammation. This clotting is induced by a variety of formulations with cationic lipids, including LNPs and non-LNP nanoparticles. The mechanism depends on the LNPs binding to fibrinogen and inducing platelet and thrombin activation. Based on these mechanisms, we engineered multiple solutions which enable positively charged LNPs to target the lungs while not inducing thrombosis. Our findings implicate thrombosis as a major barrier that blood erects against LNPs with cationic components and illustrate how physicochemical targeting approaches must be investigated early for risks and re-engineered with a careful understanding of biological mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Preprint