Green fluorescent proteins engineered for cartilage-targeted drug delivery: Insights for transport into highly charged avascular tissues.


Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis, is a multi-factorial disease that primarily affects cartilage as well as other joint tissues such as subchondral bone. The lack of effective drug delivery, due to the avascular nature of cartilage and the rapid clearance of intra-articularly delivered drugs via the synovium, remains a major challenge in the development of disease modifying drugs for OA. Cationic delivery carriers can significantly enhance the uptake, penetration and retention of drugs in cartilage by interacting with negatively charged matrix proteoglycans. In this study, we used "supercharged" green fluorescent proteins (GFPs), engineered to have a wide range of net positive charge and surface charge distributions, to characterize the effects of carrier charge on transport into cartilage in isolation of other factors such as carrier size and shape. We quantified the uptake, extent of cartilage penetration and cellular uptake of the GFP variants into living human knee cartilage and bovine cartilage explants. Based on these results, we identified optimal net charges of GFP carriers for potential drug targets located within cartilage extracellular matrix as well as the resident live chondrocytes. These cationic GFPs did not have adverse effects on cartilage in terms of measured cell viability and metabolism, cartilage cell biosynthesis and matrix degradation at doses needed for drug delivery. In addition to quantifying the kinetics of GFP uptake, we developed a predictive mathematical model for transport of the GFP variants that exhibited the highest uptake and penetration into cartilage. This model was further used to predict the transport behavior of GFPs during scale-up to in vivo applications such as intra-articular injection into human knees. The insights gained from this study set the stage for development of cartilage-targeted delivery systems to prevent cartilage degeneration, improve tissue regeneration and reduce inflammation that may cause degradation of other joint tissues affected by OA.

Year of Publication
Date Published
2018 11
PubMed ID
PubMed Central ID
Grant list
R01 EB022376 / EB / NIBIB NIH HHS / United States
R35 GM118062 / GM / NIGMS NIH HHS / United States
UG3 TR002186 / TR / NCATS NIH HHS / United States
HHMI / Howard Hughes Medical Institute / United States