Cytosolic delivery remains a major bottleneck for siRNA therapeutics. To facilitate delivery, siRNAs are often enclosed in nanoparticles (NPs). However, upon endocytosis such NPs are mainly trafficked towards lysosomes. To avoid degradation, cytosolic release of siRNA should occur prior to fusion of endosomes with lysosomes, but current endosomal escape strategies remain inefficient. In contrast to this paradigm, we aim to exploit lysosomal accumulation by treating NP-transfected cells with low molecular weight drugs that release the siRNA from the lysosomes into the cytosol. We show that FDA-approved cationic amphiphilic drugs (CADs) significantly improved gene silencing by siRNA-loaded nanogels in cancer cells through simple sequential incubation. CADs induced lysosomal phospholipidosis, leading to transient lysosomal membrane permeabilization and improved siRNA release without cytotoxicity. Of note, the lysosomes could be applied as an intracellular depot for triggered siRNA release by multiple CAD treatments.Graphical abstract
Through functional inhibition of acid sphingomyelinase (ASM), cationic amphiphilic drugs (CADs) induce non-lethal lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP), enhancing the cytosolic delivery of siRNA and improving target gene knockdown.