In Vivo Biodistribution of Prion- and GM1-Targeted Polymersomes following Intravenous Administration in Mice

Due to the aging of the population, the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, is expected to grow and, hence, the demand for adequate treatment modalities. However, the delivery of medicines into the brain for the treatment of brain-related diseases is hampered by the presence of a tight layer of endothelial cells that forms the blood–brain barrier (BBB). Furthermore, most conventional drugs lack stability and/or bioavailability. These obstacles can be overcome by the application of nanocarriers, in which the therapeutic entity has been incorporated, provided that they are effectively targeted to the brain endothelial cell layer. Drug nanocarriers decorated with targeting ligands that bind BBB receptors may accumulate efficiently at/in brain microvascular endothelium and hence represent a promising tool for brain drug delivery. Following the accumulation of drug nanocarriers at the brain vasculature, the drug needs to be transported across the brain endothelial cells into the brain. Transport across brain endothelial cells can occur via passive diffusion, transport proteins, and the vesicular transport pathways of receptor-mediated and adsorptive-mediated transcytosis. When a small lipophilic drug is released from its carrier at the brain vasculature, it may enter the brain via passive diffusion. On the other hand, the passage of intact nanocarriers, which is necessary for the delivery of larger and more hydrophilic drugs into brain, may occur via active transport by means of transcytosis. In previous work we identified GM1 ganglioside and prion protein as potential transcytotic receptors at the BBB. GM1 is a glycosphingolipid that is ubiquitously present on the endothelial surface and capable of acting as the transcytotic receptor for cholera toxin B. Likewise, prion protein has been shown to have transcytotic capacity at brain endothelial cells. Here we determine the transcytotic potential of polymersome nanocarriers functionalized with GM1- and prion-targeting peptides (G23, P50 and P9), that were identified by phage display, in an in vitro BBB model. In addition, the biodistribution of polymersomes functionalized with either the prion-targeting peptide P50 or the GM1-targeting peptide G23 is determined following intravenous injection in mice. We show that the prion-targeting peptides do not induce efficient transcytosis of polymersomes across the BBB in vitro nor induce accumulation of polymersomes in the brain in vivo. In contrast, the G23 peptide is shown to have transcytotic capacity in brain endothelial cells in vitro, as well as a brain-targeting potential in vivo, as reflected by the accumulation of G23-polymersomes in the brain in vivo at a level comparable to that of RI7217-polymersomes, which are targeted toward the transferrin receptor. Thus the G23 peptide seems to serve both of the requirements that are needed for efficient brain drug delivery of nanocarriers. An unexpected finding was the efficient accumulation of G23-polymersomes in lung. In conclusion, because of its combined brain-targeting and transcytotic capacity, the G23 peptide could be useful in the development of targeted nanocarriers for drug delivery into the brain, but appears especially attractive for specific drug delivery to the lung.