Date: 14 Sep 2012

Enhancing Nucleic Acid Delivery with Ultrasound and Microbubbles

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For gene therapy to work in vivo, nucleic acids need to reach the target cells without causing major side effects to the patient. In many cases the gene only has to reach a subset of cells in the body. Therefore, targeted delivery of genes to the desired tissue is a major issue in gene delivery. Many different possibilities of targeted gene delivery have been studied. A relatively novel approach to target nucleic acids and other drugs to specific regions in the body is the use of ultrasound and microbubbles. Microbubbles are gas-filled spheres with a stabilizing lipid, protein, or polymer shell. When these microbubbles enter an ultrasonic field, they start to oscillate. The bubble expansion and compression are inversely related to the pressure phases in the ultrasonic field. When microbubbles are exposed to high-intensity ultrasound they will eventually implode and fragment. This generates shockwaves and microjets which can temporarily permeate cell membranes and blood vessels. Nucleic acids or (non)-viral vectors can extravasate through these pores to gain access to the cell’s cytoplasm or the surrounding tissue. The nucleic acids can either be mixed with the microbubbles or loaded on the microbubbles. Nucleic acid-loaded microbubbles can be obtained by coupling nucleic acid-containing particles (i.e., lipoplexes) to the microbubbles. Upon ultrasound-mediated implosion of the microbubbles, the nucleic acid-containing particles will be released and will deliver their nucleic acids in the ultrasound-targeted region.

Steven K. Cool and Bart Geers contributed equally to this work.