Lipid nanoparticle chemistry determines how nucleoside base modifications alter mRNA delivery

Jilian R. Melamed, Khalid A. Hajj, Namit Chaudhary, Daria Strelkova, Mariah L. Arral, Norbert Pardi, Mohamad Gabriel Alameh, Jason B. Miller, Lukas Farbiak, Daniel J. Siegwart, Drew Weissman, Kathryn A. Whitehead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Therapeutic mRNA has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of myriad diseases and, in 2020, facilitated the most rapid vaccine development in history. Among the substantial advances in mRNA technology made in recent years, the incorporation of base modifications into therapeutic mRNA sequences can reduce immunogenicity and increase translation. However, experiments from our lab and others have shown that the incorporation of base modifications does not always yield superior protein expression. We hypothesized that the variable benefit of base modifications may relate to lipid nanoparticle chemistry, formulation, and accumulation within specific organs. To test this theory, we compared IV-injected lipid nanoparticles formulated with reporter mRNA incorporating five base modifications (ψ, m1ψ, m5U, m5C/ψ, and m5C/s2U) and four ionizable lipids (C12–200, cKK-E12, ZA3-Ep10, and 200Oi10) with tropism for different organs. In general, the m1ψ base modification best enhanced translation, producing up to 15-fold improvements in total protein expression compared to unmodified mRNA. Expression improved most dramatically in the spleen (up to 50-fold) and was attributed to enhanced protein expression in monocytic lineage splenocytes. The extent to which these effects were observed varied with delivery vehicle and correlated with differences in innate immunogenicity. Through comparison of firefly luciferase and erythropoietin mRNA constructs, we also found that mRNA modification-induced enhancements in protein expression are limited outside of the spleen, irrespective of delivery vehicle. These results highlight the complexity of mRNA-loaded lipid nanoparticle drug design and show that the effectiveness of mRNA base modifications depend on the delivery vehicle, the target cells, and the site of endogenous protein expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-214
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Lipid nanoparticles
  • Lipidoid
  • Non-viral gene delivery
  • Pseudouridine
  • mRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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