Synergistic effects between natural histone mixtures and polyethylenimine in non-viral gene delivery in vitro

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Nanoparticles made of plasmid DNA (pDNA) and cationic polymers are promising strategies for non-viral gene delivery. However, many cationic polymers are toxic to cells when used in higher concentrations. Positively charged proteins, such as histones, are biodegradable and a good alternative, especially for potential in vivo applications. It has previously been shown that histones are able to complex DNA and mediate transfection of cells. To investigate possible synergistic effects between the different histone types and to avoid the use of recombinant proteins, we analysed whether natural histone mixtures would be functional as gene carriers. Core and linker histones from calf thymus and from chicken erythrocytes were used to transfect different cell lines. The protein mixtures efficiently complexed the pDNA, and the resulting particles entered the cells. However, only marginal expression of the gene encoded by the pDNA was observed. Transfection rates increased drastically when minimal amounts of the basic polymer polyethylenimine (PEI) were added to the particles. Neither PEI nor histones alone mediated any transfection under the conditions where a combination of both worked efficiently, and the combined particles were well tolerated by the cells. These results demonstrate that histone mixtures from natural sources in combination with minimal amounts of PEI can be used as gene carriers. This might have consequences for the development of novel gene delivery strategies, such as DNA vaccines, with minimal side-effects.

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