• proximity-activated targeting;
  • environmental targeting;
  • smart polymers;
  • gene delivery;
  • RNA interference;
  • endosome escape


Small interfering RNA (siRNA) has significant potential to evolve into a new class of pharmaceutical inhibitors, but technologies that enable robust, tissue-specific intracellular delivery must be developed before effective clinical translation can be achieved. A pH-responsive, smart polymeric nanoparticle (SPN) with matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-7-dependent proximity-activated targeting (PAT) is described here. The PAT-SPN is designed to trigger cellular uptake and cytosolic delivery of siRNA once activated by MMP-7, an enzyme whose overexpression is a hallmark of cancer initiation and progression. The PAT-SPN is composed of a corona-forming polyethylene glycol (PEG) block, an MMP-7-cleavable peptide, a cationic siRNA-condensing block, and a pH-responsive, endosomolytic terpolymer block that drives self-assembly and forms the PAT-SPN core. With this novel design, the PEG corona shields cellular interactions until it is cleaved in MMP-7-rich environments, shifting the SPN ζ-potential from +5.8 to +14.4 mV and triggering a 2.5 fold increase in carrier internalization. The PAT-SPN exhibits pH-dependent membrane disruptive behavior that enables siRNA escape from endo-lysosomal pathways. Intracellular siRNA delivery and knockdown of the model enzyme luciferase in R221A-Luc mammary tumor cells is significantly increased by MMP-7 pre-activation (p < 0.05). These combined data indicate that the PAT-SPN provides a promising new platform for tissue-specific, proximity-activated siRNA delivery to MMP-rich pathological environments.