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J Biol Chem. 2004 Mar 26;279(13):12625-35. Epub 2004 Jan 5.

A stepwise dissection of the intracellular fate of cationic cell-penetrating peptides.

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Institute for Cell Biology, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 15, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


The role of endosomal acidification and retrograde transport for the uptake of the highly basic cell-penetrating peptides penetratin, Tat, and oligoarginine was investigated. The effect of a panel of drugs that interfere with discrete steps of endocytosis or Golgi-mediated transport on uptake and cellular distribution of fluorescein-labeled peptide analogues was probed by confocal microscopy, flow cytometry, and fluorescence spectroscopy of whole cell lysates. The analyses were carried out in MC57 fibrosarcoma cells and in HeLa cells. While MC57 fibrosarcoma cells showed some vesicular fluorescence and a pronounced cytoplasmic fluorescence, in HeLa cells little cytoplasmic fluorescence was observed. In MC57 cells the inhibitors of endosomal acidification chloroquine and bafilomycin A1 abolished the release of the peptides into the cytoplasm. Release into the cytosol preserved endosomal integrity. In addition, cellular uptake of the peptides was inhibited by brefeldin A, a compound interfering with trafficking in the trans-Golgi network. In contrast, nordihydroguaiaretic acid, a drug that stimulates the rapid retrograde movement of both Golgi stacks and trans-Golgi network to the endoplasmic reticulum, promoted a cytoplasmic localization of Tat peptides in peptide-pulsed HeLa cells. The effects of these drugs on trafficking shared characteristics with those reported for the trafficking of plant and bacterial toxins, such as cholera toxin, which reach the cytoplasm by means of retrograde transport. A sequence comparison revealed a common stretch of 8-10 amino acids with high sequence homology to the Tat peptide. The structural and functional data therefore strongly suggest a common mechanism of import for cationic cell-penetrating peptides and the toxins.

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