Structure, dynamics, and energetics of siRNA-cationic vector complexation: a molecular dynamics study

Defang Ouyang, Hong Zhang, Dirk-Peter Herten, Harendra S. Parekh, Sean C. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The design and synthesis of safe and efficient nonviral vectors for gene delivery has attracted significant attention in recent years. Previous experiments have revealed that the charge density of a polycation (the carrier) plays a crucial role in complexation and the release of the gene from the complex in the cytosol. In this work, we adopt an atomistic molecular dynamics simulation approach to study the complexation of short strand duplex RNA with six cationic carrier systems of varying charge and surface topology. The simulations reveal detailed molecular-level pictures of the structures and dynamics of the RNA-polycation complexes. Estimates for the binding free energy indicate that electrostatic contributions are dominant followed by van der Waals interactions. The binding free energy between the 8(+)polymers and the RNA is found to be larger than that of the 4(+)polymers, in general agreement with previously published data. Because reliable binding free energies provide an effective index of the ability of the polycationic carrier to bind the nucleic acid and also carry implications for the process of gene release within the cytosol, these novel simulations have the potential to provide us with a much better understanding of key mechanistic aspects of gene-polycation complexation and thereby advance the rational design of nonviral gene delivery systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9220-9230
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry: Part B
Issue number28
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2010


  • cations
  • gene transfer techniques
  • molecular dynamics simulations
  • polymers
  • small interfering RNA
  • thermodynamics


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