Extracellular vesicles for nucleic acid delivery: progress and prospects for safe RNA-based gene therapy

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Nucleic acid-based drugs offer a potentially effective tool for treatment of a variety of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurological disorders and infectious diseases. However, clinical applications are hindered by instability of RNA molecules in the circulation and lack of efficient vectors that can deliver RNAs to target tissues and into diseased target cells. Synthetic polymer and lipids as well as virus-based vectors are among the most widely explored vehicles for RNA delivery, but clinical progress has been limited as a result of issues related to toxicity, immunogenicity and low efficiency. Most recently, the discovery that extracellular vesicles (EVs) are endogenous RNA carriers, which may display better biocompatibility and higher delivery efficiency as compared with the synthetic systems, has provided a ray of hope in coping with the delivery dilemma, and EV-based gene therapy has already sparked general interest both in academia and industry. In this review, the current knowledge on EV biology and their role in cell-cell communication will be summarized. Promises of EVs as drug carriers and recent technologies on tailoring EVs' biological attributes will be included, and preclinical studies in which EVs have shown promise for therapeutic RNA delivery will be discussed.

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