Non-viral gene delivery vectors with messenger RNA (mRNA) as a carrier of genetic information are among the staple gene transfer vectors for research in gene therapy, gene vaccination and cell fate reprogramming. As no passage of genetic cargo in and out of the nucleus is required, mRNA-based vectors typically offer the following five advantages: 1) fast start of transgene expression; 2) ability to express genes in non-dividing cells with an intact nuclear envelope; 3) insensitivity to the major gene silencing mechanisms, which operate in the nucleus; 4) absence of potentially mutagenic genomic insertions; 5) high cell survival rate after transfection procedures, which do not need to disturb nuclear envelope. In addition, mRNA-based vectors offer a simple combination of various transgenes through mixing of several mRNAs in a single multi-gene cocktail or expression of a number of proteins from a single mRNA molecule using internal ribosome entry sites (IRESes), ribosome skipping sequences and proteolytic signals. However, on the downside, uncontrolled extracellular and intracellular decay of mRNA can be a substantial hurdle for mRNA-mediated gene transfer. Procedures for mRNA delivery are analogous to DNA transfer methods, which are well-established. In general, there are three actors in the gene delivery play, namely, the vector, the cell and the transfer environment. The desired outcome, that is, the efficient delivery of a gene to a target cell population, depends on the efficient interaction of all three parties. Thus, the vector should be customised for the target cell population and presented in a form that is resistant to the aggressive factors in the delivery milieu. At the same time, the delivery environment should be adjusted to be more vector-friendly and more cell-friendly. The recipient cells should be subjected to a specific regimen or artificially modified to become receptive to gene transfer with a particular vector and resistant to the environment. As a rule, barriers outside tissues (e.g. mucus) and an aggressive intercellular environment complicate gene delivery in vivo, which, therefore, requires more complex gene transfer procedures than transfection of tissue culture cells. This review is focused on transfection methods for mRNA vectors, which rely either on the forceful propulsion of mRNA inside the target cells (e.g. by electroporation or gene gun) or on the complexing of mRNA with other substances (e.g. polycationic transfection reagents) for delivery via endocytic pathways.
Part of the book: Gene Therapy