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Hydrogel microspheres for spatiotemporally controlled delivery of RNA and silencing gene expression within scaffold-free tissue engineered constructs


McMillan AAlexandra , Nguyen MKMinh Khanh , Huynh CTCong Truc , Sarett SMSamantha M , Ge PPeilin , Chetverikova MMelanie , Nguyen KKien , Grosh DDavid , Duvall CLCraig L , Alsberg EEben . Acta biomaterialia. 2021 1 16; 124(). 315-326


Delivery systems for controlled release of RNA interference (RNAi) molecules, including small interfering (siRNA) and microRNA (miRNA), have the potential to direct stem cell differentiation for regenerative musculoskeletal applications. To date, localized RNA delivery platforms in this area have focused predominantly on bulk scaffold-based approaches, which can interfere with cell-cell interactions important for recapitulating some native musculoskeletal developmental and healing processes in tissue regeneration strategies. In contrast, scaffold-free, high density human mesenchymal stem cell (hMSC) aggregates may provide an avenue for creating a more biomimetic microenvironment. Here, photocrosslinkable dextran microspheres (MS) encapsulating siRNA-micelles were prepared via an aqueous emulsion method and incorporated within hMSC aggregates for localized and sustained delivery of bioactive siRNA. siRNA-micelles released from MS in a sustained fashion over the course of 28 days, and the released siRNA retained its ability to transfect cells for gene silencing. Incorporation of fluorescently labeled siRNA (siGLO)-laden MS within hMSC aggregates exhibited tunable siGLO delivery and uptake by stem cells. Incorporation of MS loaded with siRNA targeting green fluorescent protein (siGFP) within GFP-hMSC aggregates provided sustained presentation of siGFP within the constructs and prolonged GFP silencing for up to 15 days. This platform system enables sustained gene silencing within stem cell aggregates and thus shows great potential in tissue regeneration applications. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: This work presents a new strategy to deliver RNA-nanocomplexes from photocrosslinked dextran microspheres for tunable presentation of bioactive RNA. These microspheres were embedded within scaffold-free, human mesenchymal stem cell (hMSC) aggregates for sustained gene silencing within three-dimensional cell constructs while maintaining cell viability. Unlike exogenous delivery of RNA within culture medium that suffers from diffusion limitations and potential need for repeated transfections, this strategy provides local and sustained RNA presentation from the microspheres to cells in the constructs. This system has the potential to inhibit translation of hMSC differentiation antagonists and drive hMSC differentiation toward desired specific lineages, and is an important step in the engineering of high-density stem cell systems with incorporated instructive genetic cues for application in tissue regeneration.