Background: Lyophilization is an effective method for preserving nonviral gene vectors. To improve the stability and transgene expression of lyophilized plasmid DNA (pDNA) complexes, we coated the surfaces of pDNA/chitosan complexes with hyaluronic acid (HA) of varying molecular masses. The transgene expression of pDNA/chitosan/HA ternary complexes was characterized in vitro and in vivo. Methods: pDNA complexes were lyophilized overnight and the resultant products with spongy, porous consistencies were stored at −30, 4 or 25°C for 2 weeks. Rehydrated complexes were characterized using gel retardation assays, aiming to confirm complex formation, measure particle size and evaluate zeta potential, as well as conduct luciferase gene reporter assays. The anti-tumor effects of pDNA ternary complexes were evaluated using suicide gene (pTK) coding thymidine kinase in Huh7-implanted mice. Results: Transfection efficiencies of pDNA/chitosan/HA ternary complexes were dependent on the average molecular masses of HA. The coating of pDNA/chitosan complexes with HA maintained the cellular transfection efficiencies of lyophilized pDNA ternary complexes. Furthermore, intratumoral injection of lyophilized, rehydrated pDNA ternary complexes into tumor-bearing mice showed a significant suppression of tumor growth. Conclusions: The coating of pDNA/chitosan complexes with high-molecular-weight HA augmented the stability and cellular transfection ability of the complexes after lyophilization-rehydration.
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