Polymeric nucleic acid vehicles exploit active interorganelle trafficking mechanisms

Katye M. Fichter, Nilesh P. Ingle, Patrick M. McLendon, Theresa M. Reineke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Materials that self-assemble with nucleic acids into nanocomplexes (e.g. polyplexes) are widely used in many fundamental biological and biomedical experiments. However, understanding the intracellular transport mechanisms of these vehicles remains a major hurdle in their effective usage. Here, we investigate two polycation models, Glycofect (which slowly degrades via hydrolysis) and linear polyethyleneimine (PEI) (which does not rapidly hydrolyze), to determine the impact of polymeric structure on intracellular trafficking. Cells transfected using Glycofect underwent increasing transgene expression over the course of 40 h and remained benign over the course of 7 days. Transgene expression in cells transfected with PEI peaked at 16 h post-transfection and resulted in less than 10% survival after 7 days. While saccharide-containing Glycofect has a higher buffering capacity than PEI, polyplexes created with Glycofect demonstrate more sustained endosomal release, possibly suggesting an additional or alternative delivery mechanism to the classical "proton sponge mechanism". PEI appeared to promote release of DNA from acidic organelles more than Glycofect. Immunofluorescence images indicate that both Glycofect and linear PEI traffic oligodeoxynucleotides to the Golgi and endoplasmic reticulum, which may be a route towards nuclear delivery. However, Glycofect polyplexes demonstrated higher co-localization with the ER than PEI polyplexes, and co-localization experiments indicate the retrograde transport of polyplexes via COP I vesicles from the Golgi to the ER. We conclude that slow release and unique trafficking behaviors of Glycofect polyplexes may be due to the presence of saccharide units and the degradable nature of the polymer, allowing more efficacious and benign delivery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-364
Number of pages18
JournalACS nano
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 22 2013


  • cationic polymer
  • gene therapy
  • interorganelle
  • intracellular trafficking
  • polyplex


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