Polycation-induced cell membrane permeability does not enhance cellular uptake or expression efficiency of delivered DNA

Lisa E. Prevette, Douglas G. Mullen, Mark M. Banaszak Holl

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34 Citations (Scopus)


Polycationic materials commonly used to delivery DNA to cells are known to induce cell membrane porosity in a charge-density dependent manner. It has been suggested that these pores may provide a mode of entry of the polymer-DNA complexes (polyplexes) into cells. To examine the correlation between membrane permeability and biological activity, we used two-color flow cytometry on two mammalian cell lines to simultaneously measure gene expression of a plasmid DNA delivered with four common nonviral vectors and cellular uptake of normally excluded fluorescent dye molecules of two different sizes, 668 Da and 2 MDa. We also followed gene expression in cells sorted based on the retention of endogenous fluorescein. We have found that cell membrane porosity caused by polycationic vectors does not enhance internalization or gene expression. Based on this single-cell study, membrane permeability is found to be an unwanted side effect that limits transfection efficiency, possibly through leakage of the delivered nucleic acid through the pores prior to transcription and translation and/or activation of cell defense mechanisms that restrict transgene expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)870-883
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cationic vectors
  • Cellular uptake
  • Flow cytometry
  • Gene delivery
  • Gene expression
  • Lipoplexes
  • Membrane permeability
  • Polyplexes

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