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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2001 Sep 3;1514(1):21-32.

Role of endocytosis in the transfection of L929 fibroblasts by polyethylenimine/DNA complexes.

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Laboratoire de Pharmacologie et Physico-Chimie des Interactions Cellulaires et Moléculaires, UMR CNRS 7034, Faculté de Pharmacie, Université Louis Pasteur de Strasbourg, BP 24, 67401 Illkirch Cedex, France.


Polyethylenimine (PEI) is one of the most efficient nonviral vectors for gene therapy. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of endocytosis in the transfection of synchronized L929 fibroblasts by PEI/DNA complexes. This was performed by confocal microscopy and flow cytometry, using the endocytosis marker FM4-64 and PEI/DNA complexes labeled either with the DNA intercalator YOYO-1, or with fluorescein covalently linked to PEI. Endocytosis appeared as the major if not the sole mode of entry of the PEI/DNA complexes into the L929 cells. The complexes followed a typical fluid phase endocytosis pathway and were efficiently taken up in less than 10 min in endosomes that did not exceed 200 nm in diameter. Later, the localization of the complexes became perinuclear and fusion between late endosomes was shown to occur. Comparison with the intracellular trafficking of the same complexes in EA.hy 926 cells (W.T. Godbey, K. Wu, A.G. Mikos, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 96 (1999)) revealed that endocytosis of PEI/DNA complexes is strongly cell-dependent. In L929 cells, escape of the complexes from the endosomes is a major barrier for transfection. This limited the number of transfected cells to a few percent, even though an internalization of PEI/DNA complexes was observed in most cells. In addition, the entry of the complexes into the nucleus apparently required a mitosis and did not involve the lipids of the endosome membrane. This entry seems to be a short-lived event that involves only a few complexes.

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