DNA delivery with hyperbranched polylysine: A comparative study with linear and dendritic polylysine

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PEI and polylysine are among the most investigated synthetic polymeric carriers for DNA delivery. Apart from their practical use, these 2 classes of polymers are also of interest from a fundamental point of view as they both can be prepared in different architectures (linear and branched/dendritic) and in a wide range of molecular weights, which is attractive to establish basic structure–activity relationships. This manuscript reports the results of an extensive study on the influence of molecular weight and architecture of a library of polylysine variants that includes linear, dendritic and hyperbranched polylysine. Hyperbranched polylysine is a new polylysine-based carrier that is structurally related to dendritic polylysine but possesses a randomly branched structure. Hyperbranched polylysine is attractive as it can be prepared in a one-step process on a large scale. The performance of these 3 classes of polylysine analogs was evaluated by assessing eGFP and IgG production in transient gene expression experiments with CHO DG44 cells, which revealed that protein production generally increased with increasing molecular weight and that at comparable molecular weight, the hyperbranched analogs were superior as compared to the dendritic and linear polylysines. To understand the differences between the gene delivery properties of the hyperbranched polylysine analogs on the one hand and the dendritic and linear polylysines on the other hand, the uptake and trafficking of the corresponding polyplexes were investigated. These experiments allowed us to identify (i) polyplex–external cell membrane binding, (ii) free, unbound polylysine coexisting with polyplexes as well as (iii) polymer buffer capacity as three possible factors that may contribute to the superior transfection properties of the hyperbranched polylysines as compared to their linear and dendritic analogs. Altogether, the results of this study indicate that hyperbranched polylysine is an interesting, alternative synthetic gene carrier. Hyperbranched polylysine can be produced at low costs and in large quantities, is partially biodegradable, which may help to prevent cumulative cytotoxicity, and possesses transfection properties that can approach those of PEI.Graphical abstract

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