Enhancing nanoparticle penetration through airway mucus to improve drug delivery efficacy in the lung

Daiqin Chen, Jinhao Liu, Jerry Wu, Jung Soo Suk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: Airway mucus gel layer serves as a key delivery barrier that limits the performance of inhaled drug delivery nanoparticles. Conventional nanoparticles are readily trapped by the airway mucus and rapidly cleared from the lung via mucus clearance mechanisms. These nanoparticles cannot distribute throughout the lung airways, long-reside in the lung and/or reach the airway epithelium. To address this challenge, strategies to enhance particle penetration through the airway mucus have been developed and proof-of-concept has been established using mucus model systems. Areas covered: In this review, we first overview the biochemical and biophysical characteristics that render the airway mucus a challenging delivery barrier. We then introduce strategies to improve particle penetration through the airway mucus. Specifically, we walk through two classes of approaches, including modification of physicochemical properties of nanoparticles and modulation of barrier properties of airway mucus. Expert opinion: State-of-the-art strategies to overcome the airway mucus barrier have been introduced and experimentally validated. However, data should be interpreted in the comprehensive context of therapeutic delivery from the site of administration to the final destination to determine clinically-relevant approaches. Further, safety should be carefully monitored, particularly when it comes to mucus-altering strategies that may perturb physiological functions of airway mucus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-606
Number of pages12
JournalExpert Opinion on Drug Delivery
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021


  • Airway mucus
  • drug delivery
  • inhaled therapy
  • mucoadhesion
  • nanoparticle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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