Theranostics 2019; 9(15):4508-4524. doi:10.7150/thno.34314 This issue

Research Paper

Development of a Biocompatible Copolymer Nanocomplex to Deliver VEGF siRNA for Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Zhen Zhao, Yuanke Li, Ravi Shukla, Hao Liu, Akshay Jain, Ashutosh Barve, Kun Cheng

Division of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2464 Charlotte Street, Kansas City, MO 64108, USA

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Zhao Z, Li Y, Shukla R, Liu H, Jain A, Barve A, Cheng K. Development of a Biocompatible Copolymer Nanocomplex to Deliver VEGF siRNA for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Theranostics 2019; 9(15):4508-4524. doi:10.7150/thno.34314. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is the most difficult breast cancer subtype to treat. TNBC patients have significantly higher expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in tumors compared to non-TNBC patients. VEGF not only exerts its pro-angiogenic effects on endothelial cells but also acts as a survival and autocrine growth factor for VEGF receptor (VEGFR) expressing cancer cells. Silencing the expression of VEGF is therefore a potential therapy for TNBC.

Methods: A novel biocompatible linear copolymer poly[bis(ε-Lys-PEI)Glut-PEG] (PLEGP) was developed to deliver VEGF siRNA for TNBC therapy. The copolymer is composed of lysine and glutaric acid, a natural metabolite of amino acids in the body. Low-molecular weight polyethyleneimine (PEI) was grafted to the copolymer to efficiently condense siRNA into nanocomplex without inducing cytotoxicity. Various in vitro studies were performed to evaluate the stability, cellular uptake, tumor penetration, and biological activities of the VEGF siRNA nanocomplex. The anti-tumor activities of the nanocomplex was also evaluated in an orthotopic TNBC mouse model.

Results: PEIs with different molecular weights were evaluated, and the copolymer PLEGP1800 was able to easily form a stable nanocomplex with siRNAs and protect them from serum degradation. The siRNA/PLEGP1800 nanocomplex exhibited negligible cytotoxicity but showed high cellular uptake, high transfection efficiency, and high tumor penetration. In vitro activity studies showed that the siRNA nanocomplex significantly inhibited migration and invasion of TNBC cells. Moreover, the VEGF siRNA nanocomplex efficiently inhibited tumor growth in an orthotopic TNBC mouse model and down-regulated VEGF expression in the tumor.

Conclusion: PLEGP1800 is a safe and efficient copolymer to deliver siRNAs for TNBC therapy. It could potentially be applied to other cancers by changing the cargo and incorporating tumor-specific ligands.

Keywords: copolymer, glutaric acid, low-molecular weight PEI, triple negative breast cancer, siRNA, VEGF