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Bioconjug Chem. 1993 Sep-Oct;4(5):372-9.

Polyamidoamine cascade polymers mediate efficient transfection of cells in culture.

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School of Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0446.


Cascade polymers also known as Starburst dendrimers are spheroidal polycations that can be synthesized with a well-defined diameter and a precise number of terminal amines per dendrimer. We show, using luciferase and beta-galactosidase containing plasmids, that dendrimers mediate high efficiency transfection of a variety of suspension and adherent cultured mammalian cells. Dendrimer-mediated transfection is a function both of the dendrimer/DNA ratio and the diameter of the dendrimer. Maximal transfection of luciferase are obtained using a diameter of 68 A and a dendrimer to DNA charge ratio of 6/1 (terminal amine to phosphate). Expression is unaffected by lysomotrophic agents such as chloroquine and only modestly affected (2-fold decrease) by the presence of 10% serum in the medium. Cell viability, as assessed by dye reduction assays, decreases by only 30% at 150 micrograms dendrimer/mL in the absence of DNA and about 75% in the presence of DNA. Under similar conditions polylysine causes a complete loss of viability. Gene expression decreased by 3 orders of magnitude when the charge ratio is reduced to 1:1. When GALA, a water soluble, membrane-destabilizing peptide, is covalently attached to the dendrimer via a disulfide linkage, transfection efficiency of the 1:1 complex is increased by 2-3 orders of magnitude. The high transfection efficiency of the dendrimers may not only be due to their diameter and shape but may also be caused by the pKa's (3.9 and 6.9) of the amines in the polymer. The low pKa's permit the dendrimer to buffer the pH change in the endosomal compartment. The characteristics of precise control of structure, favorable pKa's, and low toxicity make the dendrimers suitable for gene-transfer vehicles.

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