A group of University of Illinois researchers, led by professors Jianjun Cheng and Fei Wang, have demonstrated that short spiral-shaped proteins can efficiently deliver DNA segments to cells. The team published its work in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
“The main idea is these are new materials that could potentially be used for clinical gene therapy,” said Cheng, a professor of materials science and engineering, of chemistry and of bioengineering.
Researchers have been exploring two main pathways for gene delivery: modified viruses and nonviral agents such as synthetic polymers or lipids. The challenge has been to address both toxicity and efficiency. Polypeptides, or short protein chains, are attractive materials because they are biocompatible, fine-tunable and small.
“There are very good in vitro transfection agents available, but we cannot use them in vivo because of their toxicity or because some of the complexes are too large,” Cheng said. “Using our polypeptides, we can control the size down to the 200 nanometer range, which makes it a very interesting delivery system for in vivo applications.”
A polypeptide called poly-L-lysine (PLL) was an early contender in gene delivery studies. PLL has positively charged side chains – molecular structures that stem from each amino acid link in the polypeptide chain – so it is soluble in the watery cellular environment.
However, PLL gradually fell into disuse because of its limited ability to deliver genes to the inside of cells, a process called transfection, and its high toxicity. Cheng postulated that PLL’s low efficiency could be a function of its globular shape, as polypeptides with charged side chains tend to adopt a random coil structure, instead of a more orderly spiral helix.
“We never studied the connections of conformation with transfection efficiency, because we were never able to synthetically make materials containing both cationic charge and a high percentage of helical structures,” Cheng said. “This paper demonstrated for the first time that helicity has a huge impact on transfection efficiencies.”
Earlier this year, Cheng’s group developed a method of making helical polypeptides with positively charged side chains. To test whether a helical polypeptide could be an efficient gene delivery agent, the group assembled a library of 31 helical polypeptides that are stable over a broad pH range and can bond to DNA for delivery. Most of them outperformed PLL and a few outstripped a leading commercial agent called polyethyleneimine (PEI), notorious for its toxicity although it is highly efficient. The helical molecules even worked on some of the hardest cells to transfect: stem cells and fibroblast cells.
“People kind of gave up on polypeptide-based materials for gene deliveries because PLL had low efficiency and high toxicity,” Cheng said. “The polypeptide that we designed, synthesized and used in this study has very high efficiency and also well-controlled toxicities. With a modified helical polypeptide, we demonstrated that we can outperform many commercial agents.”
The polypeptides Cheng and his co-workers developed can adopt helical shapes because the side chains are longer, so that the positive charges do not interfere with the protein’s winding. The positive charges readily bind to negatively charged DNA, forming complexes that are internalized into cellular compartments called endosomes. The helical structures rupture the endosomal membranes, letting the DNA escape into the cell.
To confirm that the spiral polypeptide shape is the key to transfection, the researchers then synthesized two batches of the most efficient polypeptide: one batch with a helical shape, one with the usual random coil. The helical polypeptide far exceeded the random-coil polypeptide in both efficiency and stability.“This demonstrates that the helicity is very important, because the polymer has exactly the same chemical makeup; the only difference is the structure,” said Cheng, who also is associated with the Institute for Genomic Biology and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, both at the U. of I.
The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health supported this work. Fei Wang is a professor of cell and development biology and of bioengineering. Postdoctoral researchers Nathan Gabrielson, Lichen Yin and Dong Li and graduate student Hua Lu were co-authors of the paper.
Liz Ahlberg | University of Illinois
A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
CWRU researchers find a chemical solution to shrink digital data storage
22.06.2017 | Case Western Reserve University
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
Germany counts high-precision manufacturing processes among its advantages as a location. It’s not just the aerospace and automotive industries that require almost waste-free, high-precision manufacturing to provide an efficient way of testing the shape and orientation tolerances of products. Since current inline measurement technology not yet provides the required accuracy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is collaborating with four renowned industry partners in the INSPIRE project to develop inline sensors with a new accuracy class. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the project is scheduled to run until the end of 2019.
New Manufacturing Technologies for New Products
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
22.06.2017 | Life Sciences
22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences