To overcome the low bioavailability of siRNA (small interfering RNA) and to improve their transfection efficiency, the use of non-viral delivery carriers is today a feasible approach to transform the discovery of these incredibly potent and versatile drugs into clinical practice. Polymer-modified gold nanoconstructs (AuNCs) are currently viewed as efficient and safe intracellular delivery carriers for siRNA, as they have the possibility to conjugate the ability to stably entrap and deliver siRNAs inside cells with the advantages of gold nanoparticles, which can act as theranostic agents and radiotherapy enhancers through laser-induced hyperthermia.
In this study, AuNCs were prepared by coating Gold Nano Stars (GNS) with suitable functionalised polymers, to give new insight on the choice of the coating in order to obtain colloidal stability, satisfying in vitro transfection behaviour and reliability in terms of homogeneous results upon GNS type changing. For this goal, GNS synthesized with three different sizes and shapes were coated with two different polymers: i) α-mercapto-ω-amino polyethylene glycol 3000 Da (SH-PEG3000-NH2), a hydrophilic linear polymer; ii) PHEA-PEG2000-EDA-LA (PPE-LA), an amphiphilic hydroxyethylaspartamide copolymer containing a PEG moiety. Both polymers contain –SH or –SS– groups for anchoring on gold surface and NH2 groups, which can be protonated in order to obtain a positive surface for successive siRNA layering. The effect of the features of the coating polymers on siRNA layering, and the extent of intracellular uptake and luciferase gene silencing effect were evaluated for each of the obtained coated GNS. The results highlight that amphiphilic biocompatible polymers with multi-grafting function are more suitable for ensuring the colloidal stability and the effectiveness of these colloidal systems, compared to the coating with linear PEG.