Theranostics 2018; 8(5):1213-1226. doi:10.7150/thno.22912 This issue

Research Paper

Systematic Assessment of Strategies for Lung-targeted Delivery of MicroRNA Mimics

Kenny Schlosser1, Mohamad Taha1,2, Duncan J. Stewart1,2,3✉

1. Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, ON, Canada
2. Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada
3. Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
Schlosser K, Taha M, Stewart DJ. Systematic Assessment of Strategies for Lung-targeted Delivery of MicroRNA Mimics. Theranostics 2018; 8(5):1213-1226. doi:10.7150/thno.22912. Available from

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Graphic abstract

There is considerable interest in the use of synthetic miRNA mimics (or inhibitors) as potential therapeutic agents in pulmonary vascular disease; however, the optimal delivery method to achieve high efficiency, selective lung targeting has not been determined. Here, we sought to investigate the relative merits of different lung-targeted strategies for delivering miRNA mimics in rats.

Methods: Tissue levels of a synthetic miRNA mimic, cel-miR-39-3p (0.5 nmol in 50 µL invivofectamine/PBS vehicle) were compared in male rats (n=3 rats/method) after delivery by commonly used lung-targeting strategies including intratracheal liquid instillation (IT-L), intratracheal aerosolization with (IT-AV) or without ventilator assistance (IT-A), intranasal liquid instillation (IN-L) and intranasal aerosolization (IN-A). Intravenous (IV; via jugular vein), intraperitoneal (IP) and subcutaneous (SC) delivery served as controls. Relative levels of cel-miR-39 were quantified by RT-qPCR.

Results: At 2 h post delivery, IT-L showed the highest lung mimic level, which was significantly higher than levels achieved by all other methods (from ~10- to 10,000-fold, p<0.05). Mimic levels remained detectable in the lung 24 h after delivery, but were 10- to 100-fold lower. The intrapulmonary distribution of cel-miR-39 was comparable when delivered as either a liquid or aerosol, with evidence of mimic distribution to both the left and right lung lobes and penetration to distal regions. All lung-targeted strategies showed lung-selective mimic uptake, with mimic levels 10- to 100-fold lower in heart and 100- to 10,000-fold lower in liver, kidney and spleen. In contrast, IV, SC and IP routes showed comparable or higher mimic levels in non-pulmonary tissues.

Conclusions: miRNA uptake in the lungs differed markedly by up to 4 orders of magnitude, demonstrating that the choice of delivery strategy could have a significant impact on potential therapeutic outcomes in preclinical investigations of miRNA-based drug candidates.

Keywords: microRNA, pulmonary hypertension, delivery, mimic, transfection, in vivo, rats, intratracheal, intranasal, intravenous, subcutaneous, intraperitoneal