A hyaluronic acid-based hydrogel enabling CD44-mediated chondrocyte binding and gapmer oligonucleotide release for modulation of gene expression in osteoarthritis
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is an attractive biomaterial for osteoarthritis (OA) treatment due to inherent functional and compatibility properties as an endogenous knee joint component. In this work, we describe a HA-based hydrogel with the dual functionality of increased CD44-dependent chondrocyte binding and controlled release of gapmer antisense oligonucleotides for unassisted cellular entry and subsequent gene silencing activity. A Schiff base-mediated gelation method was used to produce a panel of hydrogels varying in the aldehyde-modified HA (900 kDa) to chitosan ratios (3:7, 5:5 and 7:3) for identifying designs displaying optimal engagement of OA patient-derived CD44-expressing chondrocytes. Correlation was found between cell binding and CD44 expression, with maximal binding exhibited at a HA/chitosan ratio of 7:3, that was 181% higher than CD44-negative MCF-7 cell control cells. Transfection agent-free uptake into OA chondrocytes of fluorescent 13-mer DNA oligonucleotides with a flanked locked nucleic acid (LNA) gapmer design, in contrast to naked siRNA, was demonstrated by confocal and flow cytometric analysis. A sustained and complete release over 5 days was found with the 7:3 hydrogel, in contrast, the 5:5 and 3:7 hydrogel released 60% and 43% of loaded gapmers, respectively over the same period. A COX-2-specific gapmer designed with maximal chondrocyte gene silencing (˜ 70% silencing efficiency at 500 nM compared with a mismatch gapmer sequence) resulted in effective COX-2 silencing over 14 days in hydrogels seeded with OA chondrocytes, with significant difference exhibited between day 3 and 10. This work introduces a novel HA-based CD44-mediated cellular binding and gapmer controlled release platform to modulate cellular gene expression.Graphical abstract
Bind and repair chondrocytes within HA-based hydrogel.