Imaging small molecule-induced endosomal escape of siRNA

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Small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) are a new class of promising therapeutic molecules that can be used for sequence-specific downregulation of disease-causing genes. However, endosomal entrapment of siRNA is a key hurdle for most delivery strategies, limiting the therapeutic effect. Here, we use live-cell microscopy and cytosolic galectin-9 as a sensor of membrane damage, to probe fundamental properties of endosomal escape of cholesterol-conjugated siRNA induced by endosome-disrupting compounds. We demonstrate efficient release of ligand-conjugated siRNA from vesicles damaged by small molecules, enhancing target knockdown up to ∼47-fold in tumor cells. Still, mismatch between siRNA-containing and drug-targeted endolysosomal compartments limits siRNA activity improvement. We also show widespread endosomal damage in macroscopic tumor spheroids after small molecule treatment, substantially improving siRNA delivery and knockdown throughout the spheroid. We believe the strategy to characterize endosomal escape presented here will be widely applicable, facilitating efforts to improve delivery of siRNA and other nucleic acid-based therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1809
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cell and Molecular Biology


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