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Traffic. 2007 Jul;8(7):848-66.

A comprehensive model for the cellular uptake of cationic cell-penetrating peptides.

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  • 1Interfaculty Institute for Cell Biology, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 15, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


The plasma membrane represents an impermeable barrier for most macromolecules. Still some proteins and so-called cell-penetrating peptides enter cells efficiently. It has been shown that endocytosis contributes to the import of these molecules. However, conflicting results have been obtained concerning the nature of the endocytic process. In addition, there have been new findings for an endocytosis-independent cellular entry. In this study, we provide evidence that the Antennapedia-homeodomain-derived antennapedia (Antp) peptide, nona-arginine and the HIV-1 Tat-protein-derived Tat peptide simultaneously use three endocytic pathways: macropinocytosis, clathrin-mediated endocytosis and caveolae/lipid-raft-mediated endocytosis. Antennapedia differs from Tat and R9 by the extent by which the different import mechanisms contribute to uptake. Moreover, at higher concentrations, uptake occurs by a mechanism that originates from spatially restricted sites of the plasma membrane and leads to a rapid cytoplasmic distribution of the peptides. Endocytic vesicles could not be detected, suggesting an endocytosis-independent mode of uptake. Heparinase treatment of cells negatively affects this import, as does the protein kinase C inhibitor rottlerin, expression of dominant-negative dynamin and chlorpromazine. This mechanism of uptake was observed for a panel of different cell lines. For Antp, significantly higher peptide concentrations and inhibition of endocytosis were required to induce its uptake. The relevance of these findings for import of biologically active cargos is shown.

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