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IUBMB Life. 2010 Mar;62(3):183-93. doi: 10.1002/iub.297.

Cell-penetrating peptides: Nanocarrier for macromolecule delivery in living cells.

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Lethbridge Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.


Novel classes and applications of cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are being constantly discovered since they were first identified 2 decades ago. These short cationic peptides (nanomolecules) either by covalent binding or by noncovalent binding can traverse cell membranes and deliver a variety of molecules that are unable to overcome the permeability barrier in their own capacity. The ability of the CPPs to deliver variety of macromolecules, such as oligonucleotides, therapeutic drugs, proteins, and medical imaging agents, by forming nanoparticulate carriers in a range of cells has led them to emerge as a potential tool for both macromolecule delivery application and to gain insight into the fundamentals of mechanism of cellular uptake across the plasma membrane. This review explores the recent advances, challenges, and future prospects in the field of CPP-mediated cargo delivery in mammalian and plant cells. Studies have been conducted into the peptide chemistry and stability of CPP-macromolecular complexes. Most of the CPPs have been shown to be nontoxic and do not interfere with the functionality of the macromolecules delivered across the cell membrane. The mechanism of uptake of CPP-cargo complexes and the uptake of CPPs alone across the plasma membrane remains unresolved. As the world of CPPs is rapidly advancing in both mammalian and plant system, there is a promising future for the various applications of transduction and transfection into intact cells.

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