Heterocyclic amine-modified polyethylenimine as gene carriers for transfection of mammalian cells

Zahra Salmasi, Wayne Thomas Shier, Maryam Hashemi, Elahe Mahdipour, Hamideh Parhiz, Khalil Abnous, Mohammad Ramezani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Branched polyethylenimine (PEI) is extensively used as a polycationic non-viral vector for gene delivery. Polyplexes formed with PEI are believed to be released from endocytotic vesicles by the osmotic burst mechanism in the rate-limiting step in transfection. Increasing the buffering capacity of PEI derivatives in the endosomal pH range of 4.5-7.5 should enhance transfection efficiency. In this study, PEI was derivatized by covalently attaching heterocyclic amine moieties (piperazine, pyridine and imidazole rings with pKa values from 5.23 to 6.04) through amide bonds. PEI derivatives with 50% of the primary amines on PEI exhibited increased buffering capacity, increased transfection activity and decreased cytotoxicity in murine neuroblastoma (Neuro-2a) cells. The relative effectiveness in enhancing transfection efficiency was piperazine > pyridine > histidine, but each type of amine was the most effective under a particular set of conditions. Modified vectors could significantly improve transfection efficiency in murine mesenchymal stem cells. PEI25 derivatized at 50% with histidine administered as polyplexes in the tail veins of mice resulted in remarkably enhanced luciferase gene expression in the expected organ distribution and much lower toxicity than underivatized PEI25.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-88
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics
StatePublished - Jul 30 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran. Financial support from Iran Nanotechnology Initiative and Iran National Science Foundation is acknowledged. We would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr. Sara Amel Farzad at Pharmaceutical Research Center for her technical assistance. This work was included in part in the PhD thesis of Zahra Salmasi.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2015 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Gene delivery
  • Histidine
  • Mesenchymal stem cell
  • Piperazine
  • Polyethylenimine
  • Pyridine


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