The impermeability of the plasma membrane towards large, hydrophilic biomolecules is a major obstacle in their use and development against intracellular targets. To overcome such limitations, protein transduction domains (PTDs) have been used as protein carriers, however they often require covalent fusion to the protein for efficient delivery. In an effort to develop more efficient and versatile biological vehicles, a series of PTD-inspired polyoxanorbornene-based synthetic mimics with identical chemical compositions but different hydrophobic/hydrophilic segregation were used to investigate the role of sequence segregation on protein binding and uptake into Jurkat T cells and HEK293Ts. This series was composed of a strongly segregated block copolymer, an intermediately segregated gradient copolymer, and a non-segregated homopolymer. Among the series, the block copolymer maximized both protein binding and translocation efficiencies, closely followed by the gradient copolymer, resulting in two protein transporter molecules more efficacious than currently commercially available agents. These two polymers were also used to deliver the biologically active Cre recombinase into a loxP-reporter T cell line. Since exogenous Cre must reach the nucleus and retain its activity to induce gene recombination, this in vitro experiment better exemplifies the broad applicability of this synthetic system. This study shows that increasing segregation between hydrophobic and cationic moieties in these polymeric mimics improves non-covalent protein delivery, providing crucial design parameters for the creation of more potent biological delivery agents for research and biomedical applications.Graphical abstract
Increased hydrophobic/hydrophilic segregation in a class of polymeric mimics of protein transduction domains generates more efficient vehicles for non-covalent protein delivery.