Synthesis of (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEIs as effective and low cytotoxic nonviral gene vectors

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Gene vectors, (dextran-hexamethylenediisocyanate)-g-polyethylenimines ((Dex-HMDI)-g-PEIs), were synthesized through grafting low molecular weight (800 Da) branched polyethylenimine (PEI) to HMDI functionalized dextrans with two different molecular weights. The buffer capabilities of (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEIs were examined by acid–base titration. The titration profiles show that both (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEIs have the similar buffer capability regardless of the different molecular weight of dextran. Physiochemical characteristics of (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEI/DNA complexes were analyzed by agarose gel electrophoresis, and particle size and ζ-potential measurements. The result of gel electrophoresis suggests that both (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEIs are able to condense DNA efficiently at N/P ratios higher than 4. The particle sizes of (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEI/DNA complexes are around 160–250 nm, and the surface charges are around 19–23 mV at the N/P ratios ranging from 10 to 60. The morphology of complexes was observed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and the images show that nano-sized complexes display a regular spherical shape. In vitro cell viability and transfection were evaluated in 293T and HeLa cells using 25 kDa PEI as a control. The cytotoxicity of (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEIs is lower than that of 25 kDa PEI. The gene transfection efficiency of (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEI/DNA complexes at certain N/P ratios in 293T cells is higher than or comparable to 25 kDa PEI/DNA complex at its optimal N/P ratio of 10. In addition, comparing with (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEI with a high molecular weight dextran, (Dex-HMDI)-g-PEI with a low molecular weight dextran demonstrates lower cytotoxicity and higher transfection efficiency.

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