Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Younsoo Bae


siRNA therapy is an emerging technique that reduces protein expression in cells by degrading their mRNAs via the RNA interference pathway (RNAi). Diseases such as cancer often proliferate due to increased protein expression and siRNA therapy offers a new method of treatment for those diseases. Although siRNA therapy has shown success in vitro, it often fails in vivo due to instability in the blood stream. To overcome this limitation, delivery vehicles are necessary for successful transfection of siRNA into target cells and cationic polymers have been widely studied for this purpose. However, complexes between siRNA and delivery vehicles made from cationic polymers exhibit stability issues in the blood stream which results in toxicity and low transfection. This work hypothesizes that improvement of vehicle/siRNA complex stability will improve siRNA transfection efficiency. To test this, the contributions and outcomes of poly(ethylene glycol) [PEG] shell and hydrophobic core modification to a polyethylenimine (PEI) based tethered nanoassemblies (TNAs) were examined. Initially, hydrophobic modification of palmitate (PAL) to the core of the TNA yielded improved transfection efficiency due to an enhanced endosomal escape capability. However, this modification also reduced the TNA/siRNA complex stability. This indicated that the core hydrophobicity must be balanced in order increase stability while increasing transfection efficiency. Additionally, TNAs made from PEG and PEI did not cause transfection in our initial study. The PEG shell density was found to be too great and thereby reduced transfection efficiency. Reducing the PEG density by lowering PEG molecular weight, reducing attachment percentage, and removing small PEI impurities from the synthesis stock increased overall transfection efficiency and unimolecularity of the TNA complexes. This indicated that the shell composition of the TNA must be tuned in order to improve particle design. Further study of the hydrophobically modification to TNAs yielded unintended effects on the transfection efficiency evaluation assay. These particles exhibited an siRNA independent reduction in the reporter protein used to observe transfection, or a false positive effect, that was not previously observed. It was found that this false positive was influence mainly by the hydrophobic group rather than the cationic polymer backbone. Cellular stress was observed in cells dosed with the hydrophobically modified TNAs which lead to over ubiquitination and rapid degradation of the luciferase protein. This demonstrated that core components of TNAs could cause cellular stress and influence interaction outside of the TNA. Overall, this work demonstrates that hydrophobic core and PEG shell modification require balancing and consideration to improve properties of future cationic polymer based siRNA delivery vehicle design.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)