Enhancing pDNA Delivery with Hydroquinine Polymers by Modulating Structure and Composition

Punarbasu Roy, Nicholas W. Kreofsky, Mary E. Brown, Craig Van Bruggen, Theresa M. Reineke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Quinine is a promising natural product building block for polymer-based nucleic acid delivery vehicles as its structure enables DNA binding through both intercalation and electrostatic interactions. However, studies exploring the potential of quinine-based polymers for nucleic acid delivery applications (transfection) are limited. In this work, we used a hydroquinine-functionalized monomer, HQ, with 2-hydroxyethyl acrylate to create a family of seven polymers (HQ-X, X = mole percentage of HQ), with mole percentages of HQ ranging from 12 to 100%. We developed a flow cytometer-based assay for studying the polymer-pDNA complexes (polyplex particles) directly and demonstrate that polymer composition and monomer structure influence polyplex characteristics such as the pDNA loading and the extent of adsorption of serum proteins on polyplex particles. Biological delivery experiments revealed that maximum transgene expression, outperforming commercial controls, was achieved with HQ-25 and HQ-35 as these two variants sustained gene expression over 96 h. HQ-44, HQ-60, and HQ-100 were not successful in inducing transgene expression, despite being able to deliver pDNA into the cells, highlighting that the release of pDNA is likely the bottleneck in transfection for polymers with higher HQ content. Using confocal imaging, we quantified the extent of colocalization between pDNA and lysosomes, proving the remarkable endosomal escape capabilities of the HQ-X polymers. Overall, this study demonstrates the advantages of HQ-X polymers as well as provides guiding principles for improving the monomer structure and polymer composition, supporting the development of the next generation of polymer-based nucleic acid delivery vehicles harnessing the power of natural products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1876-1889
Number of pages14
JournalJACS Au
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 24 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society.


  • cinchona alkaloids
  • controlled polymerization
  • gene delivery
  • natural product polymer
  • nonviral gene therapy
  • pDNA delivery
  • quinine
  • transfection


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