Chitosan/Hyaluronic Acid Nanoparticles: Rational Design Revisited for RNA Delivery

Enrique Lallana-Ozores, Julio Manuel Ríos De La Rosa, Annalisa Tirella, Maria Pelliccia, Arianna Gennari, Ian Stratford, Sanyogitta Puri, Marianne Ashford, Nicola Tirelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chitosan/hyaluronic acid (HA) nanoparticles can be used to deliver an RNA/DNA cargo to cells overexpressing HA receptors such as CD44. For these systems, unequivocal links have not been established yet between chitosan macromolecular (molecular weight; degree of deacetylation, i.e., charge density) and nanoparticle variables (complexation strength, i.e., stability; nucleic acid protection; internalization rate) on one hand, and transfection efficiency on the other hand. Here, we have focused on the role of avidity on transfection efficiency in the CD44-expressing HCT-116 as a cellular model; we have employed two differently sized payloads (a large luciferase-encoding mRNA and a much smaller anti-Luc siRNA), and a small library of chitosans (variable molecular weight and degree of deactylation). The RNA avidity for chitosan showed—as expected—an inverse relationship: higher avidity–higher polyplex stability–lower transfection efficiency. The avidity of chitosan for RNA appears to lead to opposite effects: higher avidity–higher polyplex stability but also higher transfection efficiency. Surprisingly, the best transfecting particles were those with the lowest propensity for RNA release, although this might be a misleading relationship: for example, the same macromolecular parameters that increase avidity can also boost chitosan’s endosomolytic activity, with a strong enhancement in transfection. The performance of these nonviral vectors appears therefore difficult to predict simply on the basis of carrier- or payload-related variables, and a more holistic consideration of the journey of the nanoparticle, from cell uptake to cytosolic bioavailability of payload, is needed. It is also noteworthy that the nanoparticles used in this study showed optimal performance under slightly acidic conditions (pH 6.4), which is promising for applications in a tumoral extracellular environment. It is also worth pointing out that under these conditions we have for the first time successfully delivered mRNA with chitosan/HA nanoparticles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2422-2436
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number7
Early online date9 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2017


  • hyaluronan
  • RNA
  • chitosan
  • targeting
  • gene delivery
  • HCT-116


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