Nanocomplexes for gene therapy of respiratory diseases: Targeting and overcoming the mucus barrier

Sante Di Gioia, Adriana Trapani, Stefano Castellani, Annalucia Carbone, Giuliana Belgiovine, Emanuela Fabiola Craparo, Giovanni Puglisi, Gennara Cavallaro, Giuseppe Trapani, Massimo Conese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gene therapy, i.e. the delivery and expression of therapeutic genes, holds great promise for congenital and acquired respiratory diseases. Non-viral vectors are less toxic and immunogenic than viral vectors, although they are characterized by lower efficiency. However, they have to overcome many barriers, including inflammatory and immune mediators and cells. The respiratory and airway epithelial cells, the main target of these vectors, are coated with a layer of mucus, which hampers the effective reaching of gene therapy vectors carrying either plasmid DNA or small interfering RNA. This barrier is thicker in many lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. This review summarizes the most important advancements in the field of non-viral vectors that have been achieved with the use of nanoparticulate (NP) systems, composed either of polymers or lipids, in the lung gene delivery. In particular, different strategies of targeting of respiratory and airway lung cells will be described. Then, we will focus on the two approaches that attempt to overcome the mucus barrier: coating of the nanoparticulate system with poly(ethylene glycol) and treatment with mucolytics. Our conclusions are: 1) Ligand and physical targeting can direct therapeutic gene expression in specific cell types in the respiratory tract; 2) Mucopenetrating NPs are endowed with promising features to be useful in treating respiratory diseases and should be now advanced in pre-clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-24
Number of pages17
JournalPulmonary Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Asthma
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Mucolytics
  • Poly(ethylene glycol)
  • Sputum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Biochemistry, medical


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