Peptide-functionalized poly(ethylene glycol) star polymers: DNA delivery vehicles with multivalent molecular architecture

Katye M. Fichter, Le Zhang, Kristi L. Kiick, Theresa M. Reineke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Exploring the development of nonviral nucleic acid delivery vectors with progressive, specific, and novel designs in molecular architecture is a fundamental way to investigate how aspects of chemical and physical structure impact the transfection process. In this study, macromolecules comprised of a four-arm star poly(ethylene glycol) and termini modified with one of five different heparin binding peptides have been investigated for their ability to bind, compact, and deliver DNA to mammalian cells in vitro. These new delivery vectors combine a PEG-derived stabilizing moiety with peptides that exhibit unique cell-surface binding ability in a molecular architecture that permits multivalent presentation of the cationic peptides. Five peptide sequences of varying heparin binding affinity were studied; each was found to sufficiently bind heparin for biological application. Additionally, the macromolecules were able to bind and compact DNA into particles of proper size for endocytosis. In biological studies, the PEG-star peptides displayed a range of toxicity and transfection efficiency dependent on the peptide identity. The vectors equipped with peptides of highest heparin binding affinity were found to bind DNA tightly, increase levels of cellular internalization, and display the most promising transfection qualities. Our results suggest heparin binding peptides with specific sequences hold more potential than nonspecific cationic polymers to optimize transfection efficiency while maintaining cell viability. Furthermore, the built-in multivalency of these macromolecules may allow simultaneous binding of both DNA at the core of the polyplex and heparan sulfate on the surface of the cell. This scheme may facilitate a bridging transport mechanism, tethering DNA to the surface of the cell and subsequently ushering therapeutic nucleic acids into the cell. This multivalent star shape is therefore a promising architectural feature that may be exploited in the design of future polycationic gene delivery vectors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-88
Number of pages13
JournalBioconjugate Chemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


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