Multimodal engineering of extracellular vesicles for efficient intracellular protein delivery

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are promising tools to transfer macromolecular therapeutic molecules to recipient cells, however, efficient functional intracellular protein delivery by EVs remains challenging. Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet have developed novel and versatile systems that leverage selected molecular tools to engineer EVs for robust cytosolic protein delivery both in vitro and in vivo. These systems, termed VSV-G plus EV-sorting Domain-Intein-Cargo (VEDIC) and VSV-G-Foldon-Intein-Cargo (VFIC), exploit an engineered mini-intein (intein) protein with self-cleavage activity to link cargo to an EV-sorting domain and release it from the EV membrane inside the EV lumen. In addition, the researchers utilize the fusogenic protein VSV-G to facilitate endosomal escape and cargo release from the endosomal system to the cytosol of recipient cells. Importantly, they demonstrate that the combination of the self-cleavage intein, fusogenic protein and EV-sorting domain are indispensable for efficient functional intracellular delivery of cargo proteins by engineered EVs. As such, nearly 100% recombination and close to 80% genome editing efficiency in reporter cells were observed by EV-transferred Cre recombinase and Cas9/sgRNA RNPs, respectively. Moreover, EV-mediated Cre delivery by VEDIC or VFIC engineered EVs resulted in significant in vivo recombination in Cre-LoxP R26-LSL-tdTomato reporter mice following both local and systemic injections. Finally, the researcher applied these systems for improved treatment of LPS-induced systemic inflammation by delivering a super-repressor of NF-ĸB activity. Altogether, this study describes a platform by which EVs can be utilized as a vehicle for the efficient intracellular delivery of macromolecular therapeutics for treatments of disease.

Development of VEDIC and VFIC systems for high-efficiency
intracellular protein delivery in vitro and in vivo


Intein in tripartite fusion protein (EVsorting Domain-Intein-Cargo) performs C-terminal cleavage during the process of EVbiogenesis, resulting in enriched free cargo proteins inside of vesicles. Together with fusogenic protein, VSV-G, these engineered EVs achieve high-efficiency intracellular delivery of cargo protein (Cre and super repressor of NF-ĸB) or protein complex (Cas9/sgRNA RNPs) both in reporter cells and in mice models.

Liang X, Gupta D, Xie J et al. (2023) Multimodal engineering of extracellular vesicles for efficient intracellular protein delivery. bioRXiv [online preprint]. [abstract]

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