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Effect of Lipid Headgroup Charge and pH on the Stability and Membrane Insertion Potential of Calcium Condensed Gene Complexes

Alhakamy, Nabil A., Elandaloussi, Ibrahim, Ghazvini, Saba, Berkland, Cory J., Dhar, Prajnaparamita
Langmuir 2015 v.31 no.14 pp. 4232-4245
acidity, adsorption, calcium, calcium chloride, cell membranes, chemical composition, endocytosis, endosomes, genes, hydrodynamics, hydrophilicity, models, pH, peptides, phospholipids, small interfering RNA, surfactants, transfection, zwitterions
Noncovalently condensed complexes of genetic material, cell penetrating peptides (CPPs), and calcium chloride present a nonviral route to improve transfection efficiency of nucleic acids (e.g., pDNA and siRNA). However, the exact mechanisms of membrane insertion and delivery of macromolecule complexes to intracellular locations as well as their stability in the intracellular environment are not understood. We show that calcium condensed gene complexes containing different hydrophilic (i.e., dTAT, K9, R9, and RH9) and amphiphilic (i.e., RA9, RL9, and RW9) CPPs formed stable cationic complexes of hydrodynamic radii 100 nm at neutral pH. However, increasing the acidity caused the complexes to become neutral or anionic and increase in size. Using zwitterionic and anionic phospholipid monolayers as models that mimic the membrane composition of the outer leaflet of cell membranes and intracellular vesicles and pHs that mimic the intracellular environment, we study the membrane insertion potential of these seven gene complexes (CPP/pDNA/Ca²⁺ complexes) into model membranes. At neutral pH, all gene complexes demonstrated the highest insertion potential into anionic phospholipid membranes, with complexes containing amphiphilic peptides showing the maximum insertion. However, at acidic pH, the gene complexes demonstrated maximum monolayer insertion into zwitterionic lipids, irrespective of the chemical composition of the CPP in the complexes. Our results suggest that in the neutral environment the complexes are unable to penetrate the zwitterionic lipid membranes but can penetrate through the anionic lipid membranes. However, the acidic pH mimicking the local environment in the late endosomes leads to a significant increase in adsorption of the complexes to zwitterionic lipid headgroups and decreases for anionic headgroups. These membrane–gene complex interactions may be responsible for the ability of the complexes to efficiently enter the intracellular environment through endocytosis and escape from the endosomes to effectively deliver their genetic payload.