Varini et al. J Control Release 2019

Targeted delivery to specific tissues and subcellular compartments is of paramount importance to optimize therapeutic or diagnostic interventions while minimizing side-effects. Using recently identified LDL receptor (LDLR) -targeting small synthetic peptide-vectors conjugated to model cargos of different nature and size, we investigated in LDLR-expressing cells the impact of vector-cargo molecular engineering and coupling valency, as well as the cellular exposure duration on their target engagement and intracellular trafficking and delivery profiles. All vector-cargo conjugates evaluated were found to be delivered to late compartments together with the natural ligand LDL, although to varying extents and with different kinetics. Partial recycling together with the LDLR was also consistently observed. Under continuous cellular exposure, the extent of intracellular vectorcargo delivery primarily relies on their endosomal unloading potential. In this condition, the highest intracellular delivery potential was observed with a monovalent conjugate displaying a rather high LDLR dissociation rate. On the contrary, under transient cellular exposure followed by chase, low dissociation-rate bivalent conjugates revealed a higher intracellular delivery potential than the monovalent conjugate. This was shown to rely on their ability to undergo multiple endocytosis-recycling rounds, with limited release in the ligand-free medium. The absence of reciprocal competition with the natural ligand LDL on their respective intracellular trafficking was also demonstrated, which is essential in terms of potential safety liabilities. These results demonstrate that not only molecular engineering of new therapeutic conjugates of interest, but also the cellular exposure mode used during in vitro evaluations are critical to anticipate and optimize their delivery potential.