Evaluation of collagen and methylated collagen as gene carriers

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This study explores the potential of DNA complexes prepared with methylated collagen (MC) and unmodified native collagen (NC) to deliver genes into cells. The physicochemical properties and transfection abilities of these two types of complexes are studied in parallel. MC was prepared by methylation of the carboxyl groups of collagen, rendering the collagen net positively charged at neutral pH. NC/DNA complexes were prepared at pH ∼3, but aggregated rapidly at neutral pH. These complexes did not confer significant protection to DNA due to its poor stability in serum. MC carried a positive charge at neutral pH and formed complexes with DNA in PBS; therefore MC improved DNA binding ability and the stability of the complexes at physiological conditions. MC/DNA complexes were smaller and more stable than NC/DNA complexes in PBS, and sustained released of DNA from MC/DNA complexes was observed for up to 3 weeks in PBS at 37 °C. In contrast, NC/DNA complexes released almost all the DNA within 6 h under the same condition. In vitro gene transfection experiments revealed that MC mediated a higher gene expression than NC, although the level of gene expression was still much lower than that achieved with polyethyleneimine/DNA complexes. In contrast to in vitro results, NC/DNA complexes yielded a 3.8-fold higher gene expression than naked DNA and MC/DNA complexes (P < 0.05) at week 2 following intramuscular injection at a DNA dose of 3 μg per muscle and a weight ratio of 1. Higher weight ratios resulted in significant decrease of transfection efficiency, particularly for MC/DNA complexes. The results suggested that gene delivery via the intramuscular route followed a different mechanism that demands a different set of physiochemical properties of the carrier from other parental routes. The potential of these collagen-based gene carriers for other administration routes remain to be further investigated.

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