Immunophilin-loaded erythrocytes as a new delivery strategy for immunosuppressive drugs

Sara Biagiotti, Luigia Rossi, Marzia Bianchi, Elisa Giacomini, Francesca Pierigè, Giordano Serafini, Pier Giulio Conaldi, Mauro Magnani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cyclosporine A (CsA) and tacrolimus (also known as FK506) are natural compounds with immunosuppressive activity that have improved the outcome of organ transplantation. Unfortunately, both drugs are characterised by high pharmacokinetic variability, poor bioavailability and high toxicity. Until now, no optimal method to deliver immunosuppressant drugs into circulation has been developed. Here we propose the use of engineered erythrocytes as a drug delivery system for the release of immunosuppressants in circulation in order to modify their pharmacokinetic and restrain toxic effects. After administration, FK506 and CsA mainly distribute within erythrocytes owing to the presence into these cells of immunophilins that bind the drugs with very high affinity (FKBP12 for FK506 and cyclophilin A for CsA); therefore, a new strategy aimed to increase the amount of FK506/CsA carried by erythrocytes by increasing the intra-erythrocytic concentration of the respective binding proteins has been developed. We manufactured recombinant forms of human FKBP12 and cyclophilin A to be loaded into RBC through a hypotonic dialysis and isotonic resealing procedure. Erythrocytes loaded with 3.5 ± 1.3, 7.5 ± 3.1 and 15.5 ± 0.4 nmol FKBP12 were able to bind 3.5 ± 1.5, 6.0 ± 1.9 and 11.4 ± 2.9 μg FK506 per millilitre RBC, respectively, while RBC loaded with 4.0 ± 0.6, 5.0 ± 0.8 and 15.9 ± 2.4 nmol of cyclophilin A could bind 8.9 ± 3.4, 12.2 ± 3.5 and 17.0 ± 3.2 μg CsA. Thus, both engineered RBC were demonstrated able to bind up to an order of magnitude more drug than corresponding native erythrocytes (1.0 ± 0.3 μg FK506 and 3.2 ± 0.3 μg CsA). Moreover, FK506 released from FKBP12-RBC is able to be up-taken by T lymphocytes and inhibit IL-2 expression in vitro as free administered drug. In summary, our results indicate that diffusible immunosuppressants could be entrapped into red cells (thanks to the loading of the respective target protein) and suggest that immunophilin-loaded RBC could be employed as potential delivery system for immunosuppressive agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-313
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 25 2011


  • Cyclophilin A
  • Cyclosporine A
  • Drug delivery
  • Erythrocytes
  • FKBP12
  • Tacrolimus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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