The intracellular limiting steps in non-viral gene delivery are still unclear. The purpose of this study was to quantize intracellular DNA release and elimination kinetics after transfection with various non-viral carriers (calcium phosphate precipitates, branched poly(ethyleneimine), poly-L-lysine, DOTAP, DOTAP/DOPE) and to correlate these factors with transgene expression. Intracellular kinetics of DNA was determined by novel quantitative method based on qRT-PCR and DNase treatment. Intracellular elimination of DNA after calcium phosphate transfection was rapid (half-life of 0.37 h) whereas the amount of DNA in the cells was stable for at least 136 h after poly(ethyleneimine) mediated transfection. Intracellular elimination half-lives for DNA delivered by other carrier systems ranged from 9 to 27 h. Calcium phosphate precipitates are not able to protect DNA, which explains the short elimination half-life. In the case of other carriers DNA is after complex removal mostly carrier bound but after 24 h the major fraction of DNA is in the released or loosened state. Overall, neither total nor released amount of intracellular DNA correlates with the transgene expression.Graphical abstract
Intracellular elimination of pDNA after non-viral transfection as a function of time.