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Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2008 Mar 1;60(4-5):580-97. Epub 2007 Oct 22.

Thermodynamic studies and binding mechanisms of cell-penetrating peptides with lipids and glycosaminoglycans.

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  • 1Department of Biophysical Chemistry, Biozentrum, University of Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 50/70, 4056 Basel, Switzerland.


Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) traverse the membrane of biological cells at low micromolar concentrations and are able to take various cargo molecules along with. Despite large differences in their chemical structure, CPPs share the structural similarity of a high cationic charge density. This property confers to them the ability to bind electrostatically membrane constituents such as anionic lipids and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Controversies exist, however, about the biological response after the interaction of CPPs with such membrane constituents. Present review compares thermodynamic binding studies with conditions of the biological CPP uptake. It becomes evident that CPPs enter biological cells by different and probably competing mechanisms. For example, some amphipathic CPPs traverse pure lipid model membranes at low micromolar concentrations--at least in the absence of cargos. In contrast, no direct translocation at these conditions is observed for non-amphipathic CPPs. Finally, CPPs bind GAGs at low micromolar concentrations with potential consequences for endocytotic pathways.

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