Reaching for the Stars in the Brain: Polymer-Mediated Gene Delivery to Human Astrocytes

Chaitanya R. Joshi, Vijay Raghavan, Sivakumar Vijayaraghavalu, Yue Gao, Manju Saraswathy, Vinod Labhasetwar, Anuja Ghorpade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Astrocytes, the “star-shaped” glial cells, are appealing gene-delivery targets to treat neurological diseases due to their diverse roles in brain homeostasis and disease. Cationic polymers have successfully delivered genes to mammalian cells and hence present a viable, non-immunogenic alternative to widely used viral vectors. In this study, we investigated the gene delivery potential of a series of arginine- and polyethylene glycol-modified, siloxane-based polyethylenimine analogs in primary cultured human neural cells (neurons and astrocytes) and in mice. Plasmid DNAs encoding luciferase reporter were used to measure gene expression. We hypothesized that polyplexes with arginine would help in cellular transport of the DNA, including across the blood-brain barrier; polyethylene glycol will stabilize polyethylenimine and reduce its toxicity while maintaining its DNA-condensing ability. Polyplexes were non-toxic to human neural cells and red blood cells. Cellular uptake of polyplexes and sustained gene expression were seen in human astrocytes as well as in mouse brains post-intravenous-injections. The polyplexes also delivered and expressed genes driven by astrocyte-restricted glial fibrillary acidic protein promoters, which are weaker than viral promoters. To our knowledge, the presented work validates a biocompatible and effective polymer-facilitated gene-delivery system for both human brain cells and mice for the first time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-657
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Therapy - Nucleic Acids
StatePublished - 7 Sep 2018


  • GFAP promoters
  • blood-brain barrier
  • gene therapy
  • human neural cells
  • intravenous gene delivery
  • polyplexes


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