Transferrin-modified chitosan nanoparticles for targeted nose-to-brain delivery of proteins

Nose-to-brain delivery presents a promising alternative route compared to classical blood–brain barrier passage, especially for the delivery of high molecular weight drugs. In general, macromolecules are rapidly degraded in physiological environment. Therefore, nanoparticulate systems can be used to protect biomolecules from premature degradation. Furthermore, targeting ligands on the surface of nanoparticles are able to improve bioavailability by enhancing cellular uptake due to specific binding and longer residence time. In this work, transferrin-decorated chitosan nanoparticles are used to evaluate the passage of a model protein through the nasal epithelial barrier in vitro.

It was demonstrated that strain-promoted azide–alkyne cycloaddition reaction can be utilized to attach a functional group to both transferrin and chitosan enabling a rapid covalent surface-conjugation under mild reaction conditions after chitosan nanoparticle preparation. The intactness of transferrin and its binding efficiency were confirmed via SDS-PAGE and SPR measurements. Resulting transferrin-decorated nanoparticles exhibited a size of about 110–150 nm with a positive surface potential. Nanoparticles with the highest amount of surface bound targeting ligand also displayed the highest cellular uptake into a human nasal epithelial cell line (RPMI 2650).

In an air–liquid interface co-culture model with glioblastoma cells (U87), transferrin-decorated nanoparticles showed a faster passage through the epithelial cell layer as well as increased cellular uptake into glioblastoma cells. These findings demonstrate the beneficial characteristics of a specific targeting ligand. With this chemical and technological formulation concept, a variety of targeting ligands can be attached to the surface after nanoparticle formation while maintaining cargo integrity.

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Gabold, B., Adams, F., Brameyer, S. et al. Transferrin-modified chitosan nanoparticles for targeted nose-to-brain delivery of proteins. Drug Deliv. and Transl. Res. (2022).

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