Small nucleic acid (NA) therapeutics, such as small interfering RNA (siRNA), are generally formulated in nanoparticles (NPs) to overcome the multiple extra- and intracellular barriers upon in vivo administration. Interaction with target cells typically triggers endocytosis and sequesters the NPs in endosomes, thus hampering the pharmacological activity of the encapsulated siRNAs that occurs in the cytosol. Unfortunately, for most state-of-the-art NPs, endosomal escape is largely inefficient. As a result, the bulk of the endocytosed NA drug is rapidly trafficked towards the degradative lysosomes that are considered as a dead-end for siRNA nanomedicines. Opposed to this paradigm, we recently reported that cationic amphiphilic drugs (CADs) could strongly promote functional siRNA delivery from the endolysosomal compartment via transient induction of lysosomal membrane permeabilization. However, many questions still remain regarding the broader applicability of such a CAD adjuvant effect on NA delivery. Here, we report a drug repurposing screen (National Institutes of Health Clinical Collection) that allowed identification of 56 CAD adjuvants. We furthermore demonstrate that the CAD adjuvant effect is dependent on the type of nanocarrier, with NPs that generate an appropriate pool of decomplexed siRNA in the endolysosomal compartment being most susceptible to CAD-promoted gene silencing. Finally, the CAD adjuvant effect was verified on human ovarian cancer cells and for antisense oligonucleotides. In conclusion, this study strongly expands our current knowledge on how CADs increase the cytosolic release of small NAs, providing relevant insights to more rationally combine CAD adjuvants with NA-loaded NPs for future therapeutic applications.
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