Intracellular and transdermal protein delivery mediated by non-covalent interactions with a synthetic guanidine-rich molecular carrier

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The impermeability of the cell plasma membrane is one of the major barriers for protein transduction into mammalian cells, and it also limits the use of proteins as therapeutic agents. Protein transduction has usually been achieved based on certain invasive processes or cell penetrating peptides (CPP). Herein we report our study in which a synthetic guanidine-rich molecular carrier is used as a delivery vector for intracellular and transdermal delivery of proteins. First a sorbitol-based molecular carrier having 8 guanidine units (Sor-G8) was synthesized, and then was simply mixed with a cargo protein of varying sizes to form the non-covalent complex of carrier-cargo proteins. These ionic complexes were shown to have efficient cellular uptake properties. The optimum conditions including the molar ratio between cargo protein and carrier, and the treatment time have been defined. Several protein cargoes were successfully examined with differing sizes and molecular weights: green fluorescent protein (MW 27 kDa), albumin (66 kDa), concanavalin A (102 kDa), and immunoglobulin G (150 kDa). These non-covalent complexes were also found to have excellent transdermal penetration ability into the mouse skin. The skin penetration depth was studied histologically by light microscopy as well as two-photon microscopy thus generating a depth profile. These complexes were largely found in the epidermis and dermis layers, i.e. down to ca. 100 μm depth of the mouse skin. Our synthetic Sor-G8 carrier was found to be substantially more efficient that Arg8 in both the intracellular transduction and the transdermal delivery of proteins. The mechanism of the cellular uptake of the complex was briefly studied, and the results suggested macropinocytosis.

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