The use of electronic-neutral penetrating peptides cyclosporin A to deliver pro-apoptotic peptide: A possibly better choice than positively charged TAT

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Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are increasingly important in transporting macromolecules across cell membranes, but their use remains confined to narrow clinical applications due to the systemic toxicity induced by their positive charges. Several newly discovered electronic neutral penetrating peptides are not attracting much attention because their penetrating capacity is normally far less powerful than cationic or amphiphilic CPPs. In this study, we found the electronic neutral cyclic peptide cyclosporin A (CsA) exhibited 5.6-fold and 19.1-fold stronger penetrating capacity, respectively, than two reported electronic neutral peptides PFVYLI (PFV) and pentapeptide VPTLQ (VPT) in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. To systematically evaluate the efficiency and toxicity of CsA, we utilized CsA to deliver a membrane-impenetrable pro-apoptotic peptide (PAD) and compared this to the well-established cationic penetrating peptide TAT (RKKRRQRRR). By conjugating CsA to PAD, the internalization of PAD increased 2.2- to 4.7-fold in four different tumor cell lines, and that of CsA-PAD conjugate was significantly higher than TAT-PAD conjugate in MCF-7 and HeLa human cervical cancer cells. Cytotoxicity studies demonstrated that CsA-PAD exhibited a large increase in cell cytotoxicity compared to PAD in four different tumor cell lines, with the effect being similar or greater than the effect of TAT-PAD, depending upon the cell type. The mechanistic studies demonstrated that modifying CsA or TAT did not change the cytotoxicity mechanism of PAD, which occurred via mitochondrial membrane damage related to apoptosis. In vivo studies showed that CsA-PAD could achieve similar anti-tumor efficacy to TAT-PAD but with much lower systemic toxicity, especially to the heart and liver. In conclusion, our study demonstrates for the first time that the electronic-neutral penetrating peptide CsA can be used as a powerful tool to deliver peptide drugs with similar efficiency and less toxicity than the positively charged TAT peptide.Graphical abstract

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