Non-viral synthetic vectors for gene delivery represent a safer alternative to viral vectors. Their main drawback is the low transfection efficiency, especially in vivo. Among the non-viral vectors currently in use, the cationic liposomes composed of cationic lipids are the most common. This review discusses the physicochemical properties of cationic lipids, the formation, macrostructure and specific parameters of the corresponding formulated liposomes, and the effect of all these parameters on transfection efficiency. The optimisation of liposomal vectors requires both the understanding of the biological variables involved in the transfection process, and the effect of the structural elements of the cationic lipids on these biological variables. The biological barriers relevant for in vitro and in vivo transfection are identified, and solutions to overcome them based on rational design of the cationic lipids are discussed. The review focuses on the relationship between the structure of the cationic lipid and the transfection activity. The structure is analysed in a modular manner. The hydrophobic domain, the cationic head group, the backbone that acts as a scaffold for the other domains, the linkers between backbone, hydrophobic domain and cationic head group, the polyethyleneglycol chains and the targeting moiety are identified as distinct elements of the cationic lipids used in gene therapy. The main chemical functionalities used to built these domains, as well as overall molecular features such as architecture and geometry, are presented. Studies of structure-activity relationships of each cationic lipid domain, including the authors, and the trends identified by these studies, help furthering the understanding of the mechanism governing the formation and behaviour of cationic liposomes in gene delivery, and therefore the rational design of new improved cationic lipids vectors capable of achieving clinical significance.
Keywords: cationic lipid, gene transfection, non-viral synthetic vectors, gene delivery, non-viral vectors, hydrophobic domain, polyethyleneglycol chains, cationic lipids vectors
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