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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2003 Jan 31;1609(2):161-9.

No entry for TAT(44-57) into liposomes and intact MDCK cells: novel approach to study membrane permeation of cell-penetrating peptides.

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  • 1Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, ETH Federal Institute of Technology, Winterthurestrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.


Cell penetrating peptides (CPPs) have been postulated to carry macromolecules across cell plasma membranes without the need of receptors, transporters, endocytosis or any energy-consuming mechanism. We developed an assay to study lipid bilayer permeation of CPPs. HIV-1 TAT peptides were conjugated to N-(4-carboxy-3-hydroxyphenyl)maleimide (SAM) and incubated with Tb(3+)-containing liposomes. Upon chelation of Tb(3+) by an aromatic carboxylic acid, the fluorescence of Tb(3+) increases many fold. The CPP TAT(44-57)-SAM and TAT(37-53)-SAM, as a negative control, were unable to enter liposomes consisting of phosphatidylcholine (PC) or a mix of PC, negatively charged lipids and cholesterol. In parallel, cell entry of fluorescein-labeled TAT peptides was studied using confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM). TAT(44-57)-fluorescein did not enter Madin Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells with intact plasma membranes but accumulated at their basal side. Only cells with impaired plasma membranes, as identified by nuclear staining with ethidium homodimer-1 (EthD-1), showed accumulation of TAT(44-57). Our findings change the perspectives of the potential use of TAT peptides as carriers for intracellular targeting. SAM- and fluorescein-labeled TAT(44-57) cannot penetrate lipid bilayers and intact plasma membranes of MDCK cells, respectively.

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