The importance of poly(Ethylene glycol) and lipid structure in targeted gene delivery to lymph nodes by lipid nanoparticles

Danijela Zukancic, Estelle J.A. Suys, Emily H. Pilkington, Azizah Algarni, Hareth Al-Wassiti, Nghia P. Truong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Targeted delivery of nucleic acids to lymph nodes is critical for the development of effective vaccines and immunotherapies. However, it remains challenging to achieve selective lymph node delivery. Current gene delivery systems target mainly to the liver and typically exhibit off-target transfection at various tissues. Here we report novel lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) that can deliver plasmid DNA (pDNA) to a draining lymph node, thereby significantly enhancing transfection at this target organ, and substantially reducing gene expression at the intramuscular injection site (muscle). In particular, we discovered that LNPs stabilized by 3% Tween 20, a surfactant with a branched poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) chain linking to a short lipid tail, achieved highly specific transfection at the lymph node. This was in contrast to conventional LNPs stabilized with a linear PEG chain and two saturated lipid tails (PEG-DSPE) that predominately transfected at the injection site (muscle). Interestingly, replacing Tween 20 with Tween 80, which has a longer unsaturated lipid tail, led to a much lower transfection efficiency. Our work demonstrates the importance of PEGylation in selective organ targeting of nanoparticles, provides new insights into the structure–property relationship of LNPs, and offers a novel, simple, and practical PEGylation technology to prepare the next generation of safe and effective vaccines against viruses or tumours.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1068
Number of pages16
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2020


  • Gene delivery
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lipid nanoparticles
  • Lymph node targeting
  • Nanomedicine
  • PEGylation
  • Plasmid DNA (pDNA)
  • Transfection
  • Tween
  • Vaccine

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