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J Gene Med. 2005 Dec;7(12):1555-64.

Serum albumin enhances polyethylenimine-mediated gene delivery to human respiratory epithelial cells.

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Institute for Experimental Treatment of Cystic Fibrosis, H. S. Raffaele, Milano, Italy.



The interaction of polyethylenimine (PEI) polyplexes with proteins in cystic fibrosis (CF) airway secretions poses a significant hurdle to this nonviral delivery system. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether albumin may increase the efficiency of PEI complexes in mediating gene transfer into respiratory epithelial cells in the presence of CF mucus.


PEI (25 kDa) was complexed to DNA in the presence of human serum albumin (HSA) and used to transfect confluent A549 and 9HTEo- cells. Alternatively, albumin was added to preformed PEI-DNA complexes. The cytotoxicity of complexes was analysed by the LDH (lactate dehydrogenase) assay. CF CFT1-C2 cells were allowed to polarise and were transfected either with luciferase- or CFTR-expressing plasmids. To evaluate the effect of CF respiratory secretions on transfection efficiency, confluent cells were transfected in the presence of sputum obtained from two CF patients.


The ternary PEI-HSA complexes increased luciferase expression in confluent cultures in a dose-dependent fashion up to 100 times as compared to PEI-DNA. The number of GFP-expressing cells, as evaluated by epifluorescence, was augmented several-fold. When HSA was added to preformed PEI-DNA complexes, a further 5-10-fold increase in gene expression was observed. No significant cytotoxicity was observed with either PEI or PEI-HSA polyplexes. The ternary complexes determined detectable CFTR gene transfer and expression at the apical membrane in polarised CFT1-C2 cells, as evaluated by confocal microscopy. CF sputum inhibited PEI-mediated gene transfer by 7-186-fold. Although luciferase expression mediated by PEI-HSA was still inhibited by CF sputum, these levels were 18-83.8-fold higher than with PEI.


Our results demonstrate that albumin increases PEI gene transfer efficiency in confluent and polarised respiratory epithelial cells and can allow CFTR gene expression in the appropriate cellular compartment. PEI-HSA complexes display a higher efficiency than PEI also in the presence of CF sputum, indicating that albumin-containing polyplexes may help overcome barriers imposed by CF airway secretions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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