Gene delivery mediated by cationic liposomes: From biophysical aspects to enhancement of transfection


Nejat Düzgüneş: 0000-0001-6159-1391


Biomedical Sciences

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Molecular Membrane Biology









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Cationic liposomes complexed with DNA have been used extensively as non-viral vectors for the intracellular delivery of reporter or therapeutic genes in culture and in vivo. However, the relationship between the features of the lipid-DNA complexes ('lipoplexes') and their mode of interaction with cells, the efficiency of gene transfer and gene expression remain to be clarified. To gain insights into these aspects, the size and zeta potential of cationic liposomes (composed of 1,2-dioleoyl-3-(trimethylammonium) propane (DOTAP) and its mixture with phosphatidylethanolamine (PE)), and their complexes with DNA at different (+/-) charge ratios were determined. A lipid mixing assay was used to assess the interaction of liposomes and lipoplexes with monocytic leukaemia cells. The use of inhibitors of endocytosis indicated that fusion of the cationic liposomes with cells occurred mainly at the plasma membrane level. However, very limited transfection of these cells was achieved using the above complexes. It is possible that the topology of the cationic liposome-DNA complexes does not allow the entry of DNA into cells through a fusion process at the plasma membrane. In an attempt to enhance transfection mediated by lipoplexes composed of DOTAP and its equimolar mixture with dioleoylphosphatidylethanolamine (DOPE) two different strategies were explored: (i) association of a targeting ligand (transferrin) to the complexes to promote their internalization, presumably by receptor-mediated endocytosis; and (ii) association of synthetic fusogenic peptides (GALA or the influenza haemagglutinin N-terminal peptide HA-2) to the complexes to promote endosomal destabilization and release of the genetic material into the cytoplasm. These strategies were effective in enhancing transfection in a large variety of cells, including epithelial and lymphoid cell lines, as well as human macrophages, especially with the use of optimized lipid/DNA (+/-) charge ratios. Besides leading to high levels of transfection, the ternary complexes of cationic liposomes, DNA, and protein or peptide, have the advantages of being active in the presence of serum and being non-toxic. Moreover, such ternary complexes present a net negative charge and, thus, are likely to alleviate the problems associated with the use of highly positively charged complexes in vivo, such as avid complexation with serum proteins. Overall, the results indicate that these complexes, and their future derivatives, may constitute viable alternatives to viral vectors for gene delivery in vivo.