Polycation-DNA complexes for gene delivery: a comparison of the biopharmaceutical properties of cationic polypeptides and cationic lipids

Colin W. Pouton, Paul Lucas, Beverley J. Thomas, Aimalohi N. Uduehi, David A. Milroy, Stephen H. Moss

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DNA plasmids formed particulate complexes with a variety of cationic polyamino acids and cationic lipids, which were used to transfect mammalian cells in culture. Complexation was studied by assaying for exclusion of ethidium using a fluorometric assay, which indicated that complexation with cationic polyamino acids took place with utilisation of the majority of charged functional groups. The particle sizes and zeta potentials of a range of complexes were determined. Generally polyamino acids formed uniform particles 80-120 nm in diameter in water, but their particle size increased on dilution of the particles in electrolytes or cell culture media. The efficiency of transfection was compared using complexes of pRSVlacZ, a reporter construct which expressed β-galactosidase under the control of the Rous sarcoma virus promoter. Positively charged DNA/polyamino acid complexes were taken up by cells but required an endosomolytic agent, such as chloroquine, to facilitate transfection. Polyornithine complexes resulted in the highest levels of expression, in comparison with other homopolyamino acids (polyornithine>poly-L-lysine=poly-D-lysine>polyarginine). Copolyamino acids of lysine and alanine condensed DNA but were less active in transfection experiments. Copoly(L-Lys, L-Ala 1:1) was inactive even in the presence of chloroquine. In contrast DNA/cationic lipid complexes transfected cells spontaneously, and chloroquine did not improve the extent of expression, rather it usually reduced efficiency. There was little correlation between comparative efficiencies of lipid complexes between cell lines suggesting that the nature of the cell membrane and differences in mechanisms of internalisation were determinants of efficiency. In an effort to explore better cell culture models for gene delivery, monolayers of Caco- 2 cells were transfected in filter culture. As the cells differentiated and formed a polarized monolayer, expression of β-galactosidase was reduced until at day 27 expression was not significantly different from basal activity. The Caco-2 filter culture model merits further attention as a model of gene delivery to epithelial surfaces, such as would be encountered in the lung after inhalation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-299
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Cationic lipids
  • Differentiated epithelia
  • DNA condensation
  • Gene delivery
  • Gene therapy
  • Polycations
  • Polylysine
  • Transfection

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