Chitosan Polyplexes as Non-Viral Gene Delivery Systems : Structure-Property Relationships and In Vivo Efficiency

Sammanfattning: The subject of this thesis was to develop and optimize delivery systems for plasmid DNA (pDNA) based on biocompatible polymers, in particular chitosan, suitable for non-viral gene therapy. At the onset of this thesis, studies had reported conflicting results on the efficiency of chitosan-based gene delivery systems. Therefore, structure-property relationships of chitosans as non-viral gene delivery systems in vitro and after lung administration in vivo were established for the first time.Polymer-pDNA complexes (polyplexes) based on conventional high molecular weight chitosans transfected cells in vitro and after lung administration in vivo. The chitosan polyplexes were, in contrast to polyplexes formed with the "golden standard" polymer polyethylenimine (PEI), essentially non-toxic at escalating doses. However, a very high physical stability of the chitosan-pDNA complexes together with a low buffering capacity of chitosan at the slightly acidic endo/lysosomal pH resulted in a slow onset of the gene expression and also in a lower efficiency of gene expression compared to PEI polyplexes. A slow and biodegradation-dependent release of pDNA from the chitosan polyplexes was concluded to be a rate limiting step for the efficiency of high molecular weight chitosan. The optimized polyplexes of high molecular weight chitosan (around 1,000 monomer units) showed aggregated shapes and gave increased viscosity at concentrations used for in vivo gene delivery. To improve the pharmaceutical properties and the delivery properties of chitosan polyplexes, low molecular weight chitosans were studied. Chitosans of around 18 monomer units retained the ability to protect pDNA against DNase degradation, but were more easily dissociated than those of higher molecular weight and had an efficiency comparable to that of PEI in vitro and in vivo. The pharmaceutical advantages of low molecular weight chitosan polyplexes compared to higher molecular weights are that there is less aggregation and no increased viscosity at the concentrations used for in vivo gene delivery. Coupling of an oligosaccharide targeting ligand to chitosan further increased the efficiency of some oligomer polyplexes. In conclusion, biocompatible chitosan is an interesting alternative to other non-viral gene delivery systems such as PEI.