Biodegradable brain-penetrating DNA nanocomplexes and their use to treat malignant brain tumors

Panagiotis Mastorakos, Clark Zhang, Eric Song, Young Eun Kim, Hee Won Park, Sneha Berry, Won Kyu Choi, Justin Hanes, Jung Soo Suk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The discovery of powerful genetic targets has spurred clinical development of gene therapy approaches to treat patients with malignant brain tumors. However, lack of success in the clinic has been attributed to the inability of conventional gene vectors to achieve gene transfer throughout highly disseminated primary brain tumors. Here, we demonstrate ex vivo that small nanocomplexes composed of DNA condensed by a blend of biodegradable polymer, poly(β-amino ester) (PBAE), with PBAE conjugated with 5 kDa polyethylene glycol (PEG) molecules (PBAE-PEG) rapidly penetrate healthy brain parenchyma and orthotopic brain tumor tissues in rats. Rapid diffusion of these DNA-loaded nanocomplexes observed in fresh tissues ex vivo demonstrated that they avoided adhesive trapping in the brain owing to their dense PEG coating, which was critical to achieving widespread transgene expression throughout orthotopic rat brain tumors in vivo following administration by convection enhanced delivery. Transgene expression with the PBAE/PBAE-PEG blended nanocomplexes (DNA-loaded brain-penetrating nanocomplexes, or DNA-BPN) was uniform throughout the tumor core compared to nanocomplexes composed of DNA with PBAE only (DNA-loaded conventional nanocomplexes, or DNA-CN), and transgene expression reached beyond the tumor edge, where infiltrative cancer cells are found, only for the DNA-BPN formulation. Finally, DNA-BPN loaded with anti-cancer plasmid DNA provided significantly enhanced survival compared to the same plasmid DNA loaded in DNA-CN in two aggressive orthotopic brain tumor models in rats. These findings underscore the importance of achieving widespread delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids within brain tumors and provide a promising new delivery platform for localized gene therapy in the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-46
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
StatePublished - Sep 28 2017


  • Biodegradable polymer
  • Convection enhanced delivery
  • DNA nanocomplex
  • Non-viral gene therapy
  • Tumor tissue barrier

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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