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Curr Protein Pept Sci. 2003 Apr;4(2):125-32.

TAT peptide internalization: seeking the mechanism of entry.

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UMR5124 CNRS-Université de Montpellier II, Institut de Génétique Moléculaire, 1919 Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 05, France.


During the last decade several peptides have been extensively studied for their ability to translocate across the plasma membrane. These peptides have been called "cell penetrating peptides" (CPP) or "protein transduction domains" (PTD). These peptides also promote the cellular uptake of various cargo molecules. Their mechanism of cellular entry appeared very intriguing since most publications in the field highlighted an energy-independent process. Indeed, cellular uptake of these peptides was still observed by fluorescence microscopy at low temperature or in the presence of several drugs known to inhibit active transport. In addition, internalization was reported to be much faster than known endocytic processes. However the involvement of a specific cellular component responsible for this uptake process appeared unlikely following intensive structure activity relationship studies using a wide panel of Tat analogues. Several reports about a possible artefactual redistribution of CPPs, and their associated cargos, during the cell fixation step commonly used for fluorescence microscopy have recently emerged in the literature. Moreover strong ionic interactions of CPPs with the cell surface also led to an overestimation of the recorded cell-associated fluorescent signal. It now seems well established that arginine-rich peptides are internalized by an energy dependent process involving endocytosis. Whatever the case, however, an increasing number of data indicate that the conjugation of non-permeant molecules to these CPPs allows their cellular uptake and leads to the expected biological responses, thus pointing to the interest of this delivery strategy. However, initial structure activity relationship studies of these CPPs will have to be reconsidered and the relative potency of each peptide (and their analogues) to vectorize the cargos to their most appropriate subcellular compartment will require careful re-evaluation.

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