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Bioconjug Chem. 2008 Mar;19(3):656-64. doi: 10.1021/bc700289w. Epub 2008 Feb 13.

Cellular internalization and distribution of arginine-rich peptides as a function of extracellular peptide concentration, serum, and plasma membrane associated proteoglycans.

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  • 1Institute for Chemical Research, Kyoto University, Uji, Kyoto 611-0011, Japan.


The exact mechanisms by which arginine-rich cell-penetrating peptides enter cells are still the subject of debate. Here, we have analyzed in detail the effects of serum and extracellular concentration on the internalization of oligoarginines (R n; n = 4, 8, 12, 16). The presence of serum in the incubation medium had a major influence on the uptake of R12 and R16 peptides but did not affect the uptake of R4 and R8 significantly. Incubation of cells at 37 degrees C with R12 and R16 peptides in serum-containing medium showed that the majority of labeling was confined to punctate endocytic structures. Performing the same experiments in serum-free media led to a dramatic increase in cytosolic labeling, and similarly diffuse R12 and R16 labeling was observed in cells treated with peptides at 4 degrees C. This suggests, in both cases, that the peptides were entering via a nonendocytic mechanism. Further studies on R12 peptide suggest that the initiation of nonendocytic uptake and cytosolic labeling is also dependent on serum concentration and extracellular peptide concentration. At relatively low concentrations, the peptide labels endocytic structures, but upon raising the peptide concentration, the fraction labeling the cytosol increases dramatically and this accompanies a nonlinear increase in total cellular fluorescence. Membrane-associated proteoglycans also contribute to increasing the peptide concentration at the cell surface by enhancing their recruitment via electrostatic interactions. These results demonstrate that uptake mechanisms of these compounds are highly dependent on both the presence of serum and the effective extracellular peptide concentration.

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