Polyethylenimine (PEI) is a widely used non-viral vector for DNA delivery. One major obstacle of higher molecular weight PEIs is the increased cytotoxicity despite the improved transfection efficiency and numerous chemical modifications that have been reported to overcome this problem. Carbon nanotubes (CNT) are carbon nanomaterials capable of penetrating into cell membranes with no cytotoxic effects. Covalent and noncovalent functionalization methods have been used to improve their solubility in aqueous media. The idea of conjugating PEIs and CNT through different chemical bonds and linkers seems promising as it may result in highly effective carriers due to combination of the transfection ability of PEI with cell internalization of CNT. In this study, six different water-soluble PEI conjugates of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) were prepared by grafting PEI with one of three molecular weights (1.8, 10 and 25 kDa) through succinate as a linker which refers to “an organic moiety through which a SWNT is conjugated to PEI.” The succinate linker was introduced to the surface of SWNTs through two different chemical strategies: a) ester and b) acyl linkages. The resulting SWNT-PEI vectors were characterized by IR spectroscopy, thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) and SEM imaging. All synthesized carriers were evaluated and compared for their cytotoxicity and transfection efficiency in murine neuroblastoma cells as polyplexes with plasmid DNA for luciferase and green fluorescent protein (GFP). The most efficient carriers were prepared by attaching PEI with the lowest molecular weight (1.8 kDa) through acyl linkage, which gave a transfection efficiency 190-fold greater than that of the corresponding free PEI. Transfection efficiency was the highest in polyplexes prepared with acyl-linked conjugates in all the plasmid/vector ratios studied.
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This work was financially supported by Mashhad University of Medical Sciences and Ferdowsi University of Mashhad.