Green fluorescent protein (GFP) antisense oligodeoxynucleotide (ODN) was covalently conjugated to hyaluronic acid (HA) via a reducible disulfide linkage, and the HA-ODN conjugate was complexed with protamine to increase the extent of cellular uptake and enhance the gene inhibition efficiency of GFP expression. The HA-ODN conjugate formed more stable polyelectrolyte complexes with protamine as compared to naked ODN, probably because of its increased charge density. The higher cellular uptake of protamine/HA-ODN complexes than that of protamine/naked ODN complexes was attributed to the formation of more compact nanosized complexes (approximately 200 nm in diameter) in aqueous solution. Protamine/HA-ODN complexes also showed a comparable level of GFP gene inhibition to that of cytotoxic polyethylenimine (PEI)/ODN complexes. Since both HA and protamine are naturally occurring biocompatible materials, the current formulation based on a cleavable conjugation strategy of ODN to HA could be potentially applied as safe and effective nonviral carriers for ODN and siRNA nucleic acid therapeutics.
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