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Gene Ther. 1997 Sep;4(9):961-8.

Protamine sulfate enhances lipid-mediated gene transfer.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, PA 15261, USA.


A polycationic peptide, protamine sulfate, USP, has been shown to be able to condense plasmid DNA efficiently for delivery into several different types of cells in vitro by several different types of cationic liposomes. The monovalent cationic liposomal formulations (DC-Chol and lipofectin) exhibited increased transfection activities comparable to that seen with the multivalent cationic liposome formulation, lipofectamine. This suggests that lipofectamine's superior in vitro activity arises from its ability to condense DNA efficiently and that protamine's primary role is that of a condensation agent, although it also possesses several amino acid sequences resembling that of a nuclear localization signal. While the use of polycations to condense DNA has been previously reported, the of protamine sulfate, USP as a condensation agent was found to be superior to poly-L-lysine as well as to various other types of protamine. These differences among various salt forms of protamine appear to be attributable to structural differences between the protamines and not due to differences in the net charge of the molecule. The appearance of lysine residues within the protamine molecule correlate with a reduction in binding affinity to plasmid DNA as well as an observed loss in transfection enhancing activity. This finding sheds light on the structural requirements of condensation agents for use in gene transfer protocols. Furthermore, protamine sulfate, USP is an FDA-approved compound with a documented safety profile and could be readily used as an adjuvant to a human gene therapy protocol.

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