Mechanistic details of the membrane perforation and passive translocation of TAT peptides

Stefania Piantavigna, Muhammad Abdelhamid, Chuan Zhao, Xiaohu Qu, George Alan McCubbin, Bimbil Graham, Leone Spiccia, Anthony Peter O'Mullane, Lisandra Lorraine Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The trans-activator of transcription (TAT) peptide is regarded as the "gold standard" for cell-penetrating peptides, capable of traversing a mammalian membrane passively into the cytosolic space. This characteristic has been exploited through conjugation of TAT for applications such as drug delivery. However, the process by which TAT achieves membrane penetration remains ambiguous and unresolved. Mechanistic details of TAT peptide action are revealed herein by using three complementary methods: quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation (QCM-D), scanning electrochemical microscopy (SECM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). When combined, these three scales of measurement define that the membrane uptake of the TAT peptide is by trans-membrane insertion using a "worm-hole" pore that leads to ion permeability across the membrane layer. AFM data provided nanometre-scale visualisation of TAT punctuation using a mammalian-mimetic membrane bilayer. The TAT peptide does not show the same specificity towards a bacterial mimetic membrane and QCM-D and SECM showed that the TAT peptide demonstrates a disruptive action towards these membranes. This investigation supports the energy-independent uptake of the cationic TAT peptide and provides empirical data that clarify the mechanism by which the TAT peptide achieves its membrane activity. The novel use of these three biophysical techniques provides valuable insight into the mechanism for TAT peptide translocation, which is essential for improvements in the cellular delivery of TAT-conjugated cargoes including therapeutic agents required to target specific intracellular locations
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-90
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Biomimetic membranes
  • Biophysical analysis
  • Membranes
  • Peptides
  • TAT peptide translocation

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