The overall goal of this project is to elucidate the impact of endocytic uptake mechanism and subsequent intracellular trafficking on the design criteria for polymeric gene delivery vectors. Efficient gene delivery requires vectors that are capable of navigating an intracellular obstacle course including endocytosis, escape from endocytic vesicles, transport through the cytoplasm to the nucleus, and nuclear import. For many therapies, vectors must first of all provide cell-specific targeting, most often through attachment of biological ligands that are recognized by receptors displayed on the desired cell type. Internalization of these receptors - and attached vectors - can occur via several processes that differ in the subsequent processing of the resulting vesicles. In particular, vectors internalized via clathrin-coated vesicles experience a rapid drop in pH and are trafficked to lysosomes whereas caveosomes are not acidified and avoid normal lysosomal degradation. In contrast, polymeric vectors, including "proton-sponge" materials such as polyethylenimine (PEI) and polyamidoamine (PAMAM) dendrimers, are often designed to provide escape from endocytic vesicles in response to vesicle acidification, without regard to internalization mechanism and vesicle processing. We hypothesize that endocytic processing of targeted gene delivery polymers depends on the mechanism by which they are internalized. In particular, clathrin and caveolin-mediated vector uptake require different design criteria for endocytic escape. In this project, a set of PEI and PAMAM gene delivery vectors have been designed that display either transferrin (Tf) or folate (FOL) for targeted uptake via clathrin- or caveolin-mediated pathways, respectively. The uptake mechanism of the various vectors in HeLa, MDA-MB-231 and SK-BR-3 cell lines will be confirmed quantitatively and qualitatively, and the effect of uptake mechanism on gene delivery will be determined (Aim 1). A series of established trafficking assays and biochemical inhibitors will be used to investigate the critical impact of uptake mechanism on vector acidification and endocytic vector escape (Aim 2). PEI derivatives with systematically varying buffering capacity will be synthesized to investigate the effects of varying response to vesicle acidification on endocytic escape and gene delivery activity (Aim 3). Finally, gene delivery efficiency of Tf- and FOL-targeted vectors will be evaluated in a sub-cutaneous murine tumor model (Aim 4). These experiments have been designed using well characterized polymers and targeting ligands to facilitate analysis and generalizability of the results. This project will result in new fundamental insight into structure-activity relationships of gene delivery polymers that will be useful to guide design of safe and efficient vectors for human gene therapy.

Public Health Relevance

Human gene therapy has the potential to treat or cure currently intractable conditions from cystic fibrosis to cardiovascular disease to cancer. However, successful implementation of this revolutionary medical technology requires development of vectors that can deliver genes safely, efficiently and very specifically to diseased cells. This project aims to build fundamental understanding of vectors and their interaction with cells that will aid in design of the advanced vectors required to move human gene therapy from the laboratory to the clinic.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Gene and Drug Delivery Systems Study Section (GDD)
Program Officer
Lewis, Catherine D
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Engineering (All Types)
Schools of Engineering
United States
Zip Code
Hwang, Mark E; Keswani, Rahul K; Pack, Daniel W (2015) Dependence of PEI and PAMAM Gene Delivery on Clathrin- and Caveolin-Dependent Trafficking Pathways. Pharm Res 32:2051-9
Keswani, Rahul; Su, Kai; Pack, Daniel W (2014) Efficient in vitro gene delivery by hybrid biopolymer/virus nanobiovectors. J Control Release 192:40-6
Xu, Qingxing; Leong, Jiayu; Chua, Qi Yi et al. (2013) Combined modality doxorubicin-based chemotherapy and chitosan-mediated p53 gene therapy using double-walled microspheres for treatment of human hepatocellular carcinoma. Biomaterials 34:5149-62
Keswani, Rahul K; Pozdol, Ian M; Pack, Daniel W (2013) Design of hybrid lipid/retroviral-like particle gene delivery vectors. Mol Pharm 10:1725-35
Xia, Yujie; Xu, Qingxing; Wang, Chi-Hwa et al. (2013) Protein encapsulation in and release from monodisperse double-wall polymer microspheres. J Pharm Sci 102:1601-9
Shum, Victor W T; Gabrielson, Nathan P; Forrest, M Laird et al. (2012) The effects of PVP(Fe(III)) catalyst on polymer molecular weight and gene delivery via biodegradable cross-linked polyethylenimine. Pharm Res 29:500-10
Barnard, Anna; Posocco, Paola; Pricl, Sabrina et al. (2011) Degradable self-assembling dendrons for gene delivery: experimental and theoretical insights into the barriers to cellular uptake. J Am Chem Soc 133:20288-300