Mechanistic Insights into the Superior DNA Delivery Efficiency of Multicomponent Lipid Nanoparticles: An in Vitro and in Vivo Study

Erica Quagliarini, Junbiao Wang, Serena Renzi, Lishan Cui, Luca Digiacomo, Gianmarco Ferri, Luca Pesce, Valentina De Lorenzi, Giulia Matteoli, Heinz Amenitsch, Laura Masuelli, Roberto Bei, Daniela Pozzi, Augusto Amici, Francesco Cardarelli, Cristina Marchini*, Giulio Caracciolo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) are currently having an increasing impact on nanomedicines as delivery agents, among others, of RNA molecules (e.g., short interfering RNA for the treatment of hereditary diseases or messenger RNA for the development of COVID-19 vaccines). Despite this, the delivery of plasmid DNA (pDNA) by LNPs in preclinical studies is still unsatisfactory, mainly due to the lack of systematic structural and functional studies on DNA-loaded LNPs. To tackle this issue, we developed, characterized, and tested a library of 16 multicomponent DNA-loaded LNPs which were prepared by microfluidics and differed in lipid composition, surface functionalization, and manufacturing factors. 8 out of 16 formulations exhibited proper size and zeta potential and passed to the validation step, that is, the simultaneous quantification of transfection efficiency and cell viability in human embryonic kidney cells (HEK-293). The most efficient formulation (LNP15) was then successfully validated both in vitro, in an immortalized adult keratinocyte cell line (HaCaT) and in an epidermoid cervical cancer cell line (CaSki), and in vivo as a nanocarrier to deliver a cancer vaccine against the benchmark target tyrosine-kinase receptor HER2 in C57BL/6 mice. Finally, by a combination of confocal microscopy, transmission electron microscopy and synchrotron small-angle X-ray scattering, we were able to show that the superior efficiency of LNP15 can be linked to its disordered nanostructure consisting of small-size unoriented layers of pDNA sandwiched between closely apposed lipid membranes that undergo massive destabilization upon interaction with cellular lipids. Our results provide new insights into the structure-activity relationship of pDNA-loaded LNPs and pave the way to the clinical translation of this gene delivery technology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56666–56677
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number51
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • gene delivery
  • lipid nanoparticles
  • membrane disintegration
  • transfection efficiency
  • vaccination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)


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