Systemic dendrimer-drug nanomedicines for long-term treatment of mild-moderate cerebral palsy in a rabbit model

Zhi Zhang, Yi An Lin, Soo Young Kim, Lilly Su, Jinhuan Liu, Rangaramanujam M. Kannan, Sujatha Kannan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Neuroinflammation mediated by microglia plays a central role in the pathogenesis of perinatal/neonatal brain injury, including cerebral palsy (CP). Therapeutics mitigating neuroinflammation potentially provide an effective strategy to slow the disease progression and rescue normal brain development. Building on our prior results which showed that a generation-4 hydroxyl poly(amidoamine) (PAMAM) dendrimer could deliver drugs specifically to activated glia from systemic circulation, we evaluated the sustained efficacy of a generation-6 (G6) hydroxyl-terminated PAMAM dendrimer that showed a longer blood circulation time and increased brain accumulation. N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC), an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that has high plasma protein binding properties and poor brain penetration, was conjugated to G6-PAMAM dendrimer-NAC (G6D-NAC). The efficacy of microglia-targeted G6D-NAC conjugate was evaluated in a clinically relevant rabbit model of CP, with a mild/moderate CP phenotype to provide a longer survival of untreated CP kits, enabling the assessment of sustained efficacy over 15 days of life. Methods: G6D-NAC was conjugated and characterized. Cytotoxicity and anti-inflammatory assays were performed in BV-2 microglial cells. The efficacy of G6D-NAC was evaluated in a rabbit model of CP. CP kits were randomly divided into 5 groups on postnatal day 1 (PND1) and received an intravenous injection of a single dose of PBS, or G6D-NAC (2 or 5 mg/kg), or NAC (2 or 5 mg/kg). Neurobehavioral tests, microglia morphology, and neuroinflammation were evaluated at postnatal day 5 (PND5) and day 15 (PND15). Results: A single dose of systemic ‘long circulating’ G6D-NAC showed a significant penetration across the impaired blood-brain-barrier (BBB), delivered NAC specifically to activated microglia, and significantly reduced microglia-mediated neuroinflammation in both the cortex and cerebellum white matter areas. Moreover, G6D-NAC treatment significantly improved neonatal rabbit survival rate and rescued motor function to nearly healthy control levels at least up to 15 days after birth (PND15), while CP kits treated with free NAC died before PND9. Conclusions: Targeted delivery of therapeutics to activated microglia in neonatal brain injury can ameliorate pro-inflammatory microglial responses to injury, promote survival rate, and improve neurological outcomes that can be sustained for a long period. Appropriate manipulation of activated microglia enabled by G6D-NAC can impact the injury significantly beyond inflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number319
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Cerebral palsy
  • Microglia
  • NAC
  • Neurobehavior
  • Neuroinflammation
  • PAMAM dendrimers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Immunology
  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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