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The linear, cyclodextrin-containing polycation (CDP) is one of many non-viral gene delivery vectors that show improved transfection efficiency when modified to have pH-buffering capacity. The buffering activity is presumed to confer enhanced ability to escape the endocytic pathway. Here, the differences in delivery behavior between CDP and its pH-buffering, imidazole-containing variant (CDPim) are investigated in order to elucidate the mechanism(s) by which these related materials exhibit differences in gene delivery. In cell-free assays that include dye exclusion and heparan sulfate displacement, CDP appears to have weaker binding strength with nucleic acids than CDPim. Numerous analyses involving transfected cells, however, indicate that CDPim more readily releases nucleic acids in the intracellular setting. Together, these data suggest that differences in transfection efficiency between CDP and CDPim result from factors beyond buffering activity and endosomal escape.