NTx’s Drs. Dominik Witzigmann & Pieter Cullis publish in PNAS

Mar 4, 2024

A magnetic separation method for isolating and characterizing the biomolecular corona of lipid nanoparticles

Francia et al. 4 March 2024

Co-authored by NanoVation’s Drs Dominik Witzigmann and Pieter Cullis.


Lipid nanoparticle (LNP) formulations are a proven method for the delivery of nucleic acids for gene therapy as exemplified by the worldwide rollout of LNP-based RNAi therapeutics and mRNA vaccines. However, targeting specific tissues or cells is still a major challenge. After LNP administration, LNPs interact with biological fluids (i.e., blood), components of which adsorb onto the LNP surface forming a layer of biomolecules termed the “biomolecular corona (BMC)” which affects LNP stability, biodistribution, and tissue tropism. The mechanisms by which the BMC influences tissue- and cell-specific targeting remains largely unknown, due to the technical challenges in isolating LNPs and their corona from complex biological media.

In this study, we present a new technique that utilizes magnetic LNPs to isolate LNP–corona complexes from unbound proteins present in human serum. First, we developed a magnetic LNP formulation, containing >40 superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (IONPs)/LNP, the resulting LNPs containing iron oxide nanoparticles (IOLNPs) displayed a similar particle size and morphology as LNPs loaded with nucleic acids.

We further demonstrated the isolation of the IOLNPs and their corresponding BMC from unbound proteins using a magnetic separation (MS) system. The BMC profile of LNP from the MS system was compared to size exclusion column chromatography and further analyzed via mass spectrometry, revealing differences in protein abundances.

This new approach enabled a mild and versatile isolation of LNPs and its corona, while maintaining its structural integrity. The identification of the BMC associated with an intact LNP provides further insight into LNP interactions with biological fluids.