Development of multifunctional siRNA delivery systems and their applications in modulating gene expression in a cardiac ischemia-reperfusion model
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RNA interference (RNAi) is a conservative post-transcriptional gene silencing mechanism that can be mediated by small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). Given the effectiveness and specificity of RNAi, the administration of siRNA molecules is a promising approach to cure diseases caused by abnormal gene expression. However, as siRNA is susceptible to degradation by nucleases and it can hardly penetrate cell membranes due to its polyanionic nature, a successful translation of the RNAi mechanism for therapeutic purposes is contingent on the development of safe and efficient delivery systems. This dissertation described the development of novel siRNA delivery systems on the basis of polymeric and dendrimeric materials and also demonstrated the application of one optimized delivery system to deliver therapeutic siRNAs in a cardiovascular disease model in vivo. We studied a linear peptide polymer made from cell penetrating peptide monomers and investigated the contribution of the polymeric structure, degradability, and ligand conjugation to the siRNA loading capacity, biocompatibility, and transfection efficiency of polymeric materials. With the obtained knowledge and experience, we invented a neutral crosslinked delivery system aiming to solve the inherent drawbacks of traditional cationic delivery systems that are based on electrostatic interactions. The new concept utilized buffering amines to temporarily bind siRNA and a crosslinking reaction to immobilize the formed particles, and targeting ligands modified on the neutral dendrimer surface further enhanced the interactions between the delivery vehicles and target cells. The obtained delivery system allowed stability, safety, controllability, and targeting ability for siRNA delivery, and the method developed here could be transformed to other polymeric or dendrimeric cationic materials to make them safer and more efficient. To exploit the therapeutic potential of siRNA delivery, we developed a tadpole-shaped dendrimeric material to deliver siRNA against an Angiotensin II receptor in a rat ischemia-reperfusion model. Our results showed that the nonaarginine-conjugated tadpole dendrimer was capable of delivering siRNA effectively to cardiac cells both in vitro and in vivo, and the successful down-regulation of the Angiotensin II receptor preserved the cardiac functions and reduced the infarct size post-myocardial infarction. This dissertation paves a way for transforming multifunctional non-viral siRNA delivery systems into potent therapeutic strategies for the management of cardiovascular diseases.