Novel hyaluronic acid (HA) nanogels physically encapsulating small interfering RNA (siRNA) were fabricated by an inverse water-in-oil emulsion method. Thiol-conjugated HA dissolved in aqueous emulsion droplets was ultrasonically crosslinked via the formation of disulfide linkages to produce HA nanogels with a size distribution from 200 to 500 nm. Green fluorescence protein (GFP) siRNA was physically entrapped within the HA nanogels during the emulsion/crosslinking process. The HA/siRNA nanogels were readily taken up by HA receptor positive cells (HCT-116 cells) having HA-specific CD44 receptors on the surface. Release rates of siRNA from the HA nanogels could be modulated by changing the concentration of glutathione (GSH) in the buffer solution, indicating that the degradation/erosion of disulfide crosslinked HA nanogels, triggered by an intracellular reductive agent, controlled the release pattern of siRNA. When HA nanogels containing GFP siRNA were co-transfected with GFP plasmid/Lipofectamine to HCT-116 cells, a significant extent of GFP gene silencing was observed in both serum and non-serum conditions. The gene silencing effect was reduced in the presence of free HA in the transfection medium, revealing that HA nanogels were selectively taken up by HCT-116 cells via receptor mediated endocytosis. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.