Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Peixuan Guo

Second Advisor

Dr. Joseph Chappell


RNA nanotechnology is an emerging field that holds great promise for advancing drug delivery and materials science. Recently, RNA nanoparticles have seen increased use as an in vivo delivery system. RNA was once thought to have little potential for in vivo use due to biological and thermodynamic stability issues. However, these issues have been solved by: (1) Finding of a thermodynamically stable three-way junction (3WJ) motif; (2) Chemical modifications to RNA confer enzymatic stability in vivo; and (3) the finding that RNA nanoparticles exhibit low immunogenicity in vivo.

In vivo biodistribution and pharmacokinetics are affected by the physicochemical properties, such as size, shape, stability, and surface chemistry/properties, of the nanoparticles being delivered. RNA has an inherent advantage for nanoparticle construction as each of these properties can be finely tuned. The focus of this study is as follows: (1) Construction of diverse size and shape RNA nanoparticles with tunable physicochemical properties; (2) Investigation of the effect that size, shape, and nanoparticle properties have on in vivo biodistribution; (3) Development of drug encapsulation and release mechanism utilizing RNA nanotechnology; and (4) Establishment of large-scale synthesis and purification methods of RNA nanoparticles.

In (1), RNA triangle, square, and pentagon shaped nanoparticles were constructed using the phi29 pRNA-3WJ as a core motif. Square nanoparticles were constructed with sizes of 5, 10, and 20 nanometers. The RNA polygons were characterized by AFM to demonstrate formation of their predicted geometry per molecular models. Furthermore, the properties of RNA polygons were tuned both thermodynamically and chemically by substitution of nucleic acid type used during nanoparticle assembly.

In (2), the biodistribution of RNA nanosquares of diverse sizes and RNA polygons of diverse shapes were investigated using tumor models in nude mice. It was found that increasing the size of the nanosquares led to prolonged circulation time in vivo and higher apparent accumulation in the tumor. However, it was observed that changing of shape had little effect on biodistribution. Furthermore, the effect of the hydrophobicity on RNA nanoparticles biodistribution was examined in mouse models. It was found that incorporation of hydrophobic ligands into RNA nanoparticles causes non-specific accumulation in healthy organs, while incorporation of hydrophilic ligands does not. Lower accumulation in vital organs of hydrophobic chemicals was observed after conjugation to RNA nanoparticles, suggesting RNA has the property to solubilize hydrophobic chemicals and reduce accumulation and toxicity in vital organs.

In (3), a 3D RNA nanoprism was constructed to encapsulate a small molecule fluorophore acting as a model drug. The fluorophore was held inside the nanoprism by binding to an RNA aptamer. The ability of the stable frame of the nanoprism to protect the fragile aptamer inside was evidenced by a doubling of the fluorescent half-life in a degrading environment.

In (4), a method for large-scale in vitro synthesis and purification of RNA nanoparticles was devised using rolling circle transcription (RCT). A novel method for preparing circular double stranded DNA was developed, overcoming current challenges in the RCT procedure. RCT produced more than 5 times more RNA nanoparticles than traditional run-off transcription, as monitored by gel electrophoresis and fluorescence monitoring. Finally, large-scale purification methods using rate-zonal and equilibrium density gradient ultracentrifugation, as well as gel electrophoresis column, were developed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Available for download on Monday, May 06, 2019