Trimethylated chitosans as non-viral gene delivery vectors: Cytotoxicity and transfection efficiency

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Chitosans are linear polysaccharides of natural origin that show potential as carriers in drug and gene delivery. Introducing quaternisation on the chitosan backbone renders the polymer soluble over a wider pH range and confers controlled cationic character. This study aims to investigate the effect of increasing quaternisation and therefore, positive charge on cell viability and transfection. Oligomeric and polymeric chitosans were trimethylated, the toxicity and transfection efficiency of these derivatives were tested with respect to increasing degree of trimethylation. The cytoxicity of polymer and oligomer derivatives alone and of their complexes with plasmid DNA were determined using the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay on COS-7 (monkey kidney fibroblasts) and MCF-7 (epithelial breast cancer) cells. Transfection efficiency was investigated using the pGL3 luciferase reporter gene on the same cell lines. Complexes were characterised for their stability by gel electrophoresis. Cytotoxicity results showed that all derivatives were significantly less toxic than linear polyethylenimine (PEI). A general trend of increasing toxicity with increasing degree of trimethylation was seen. However, higher toxicity was seen in polymeric chitosan derivatives over oligomeric chitosan derivatives at similar degrees of trimethylation. All derivatives complexed pGL3 luc plasmid DNA efficiently at 10:1 ratio and three (TMO44, TMC57 and TMC93) were able to transfect MCF-7 cells with greater efficiency than PEI; 16, 23 and 50-fold, respectively. TMC57, TMC93 and all TMOs gave appreciable transfection of COS-7 cells.

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